English Title: This Special Friendship
Original Title: Les amitiés particulières
Director: Jean Delannoy
Music: Jean Prodromidès
Cinematography: Christian Matras
Out of curiosity, how come French writer Roger Peyrefitte’s first novel LES AMITIÉS PARTICULIÈRES (published in 1943), which daringly depicts two boys’ forbidden love in a boarding school could get a film adaptation in as early as 1964? Considering its thematic story conspicuously nudges such social taboos like pedophile and the dark corner in the priesthood.
Shot in Black and White by the late French director Jean Delannoy, the film is largely faithful to the source novel, Georges de Sarre (Lacombrade), a newly-arrived senior student in a Catholic boarding school for upperclass boys, soon emerges as the pick of his peers and will be admitted to the school academy any day, when he first lays his eyes on a much younger schoolmate Alexandre Motier (Haudepin), a cherubic boy with the face of an angel, the two mutually attract to each other, through love letters and secret rendezvous, their “special friendship” cannot continue without the punishment by the school, after several bouts of wrestling with several fathers (Bouquet as Father Trennes, Seigner as Father Lauzon and Nat as Father Superior), eventually they are unmatchable to the rigorous church, their future becomes ominous.
Under the envelope of strong religious incense, with organ music reverberating around, the film constructs a puppy love in the purest way, even it is between two boys, Lacombrade and Haudepin are new faces in the acting line, from their interactions and responses, one can detect that all is rigidly rehearsed beforehand, albeit acting as natural as they can, it doesn’t ring true and frankly the entire scenario is too challenging for any child actor to pull off the desire with genuine affection. Georges is a very complex character, from his struggle with his belief in the routine confession to his sabotage to separate his best friend Lucien (Leccia) from his lover, it is pretty unsatisfied to see Lacombrade’s stiff performance play out without any substantial underlining.
So, the acting borders on amateur, save Michel Bouquet’s ambivalent accuracy as a father conflicts with his own unspeakable impulse. But as a whole, the film emits its visual intensity and forbidden fruit moderately in the lustre which reminds us French masterpiece like THE 400 BLOWS (1959), DIABOLIQUE (1955) and other austere religious drama, with the exception of their dining spectacle does prefigure Harry Potter’s Hogwarts school.
Anyhow, it is a bold film, which ironically is very difficult to be remade at present time even half a century has passed, we become more and more intolerant and squeamish. Nevertheless the novel itself is a tough one to be transposed to a different media form, so better leave it in its primary savour and even this film only scratches the surface, it is already quite an achievement for its own sensational existence at the first place.