A pair of movies at the Detroit Film Theatre on July 25, 2015 showed how human beings can respond to being pushed to the limit, both by circumstance and by their own choice.
The DFT 101 afternoon film Forbidden Games (1952) portrayed how a young French girl tried to cope with the sudden deaths of her parents during World War II. The evening feature Sunshine Superman was a stirring new documentary about a man who helped create an extreme sport in which people sky-dived from high, stationary objects like cliffs and buildings.
I was particularly looking forward to seeing these films because they reminded me of two other movies that I had first seen at the DFT.
Forbidden Games made me think of the French film Ponette (DFT, May 1997), which followed a young girl’s journey of grief after the death of her mother in a car crash.
Sunshine Superman seemed like a companion piece to Steep (DFT, February 2008), which chronicled the often death-defying and sometimes death-inducing sport of big mountain snow skiing.
I had seen Forbidden Games several times on home video, but this was the first time that I had the privilege of seeing it on a big screen. Once again, the efforts of a film restoration organization had helped give new life to a movie, in both its physical condition and in the awareness of the minds of film buffs.
Brigitte Fossey’s lead role as the little girl Paulette in Forbidden Games has received much deserved praise and attention. But seeing Forbidden Games in a theater gave me more appreciation for the performance of Georges Poujouly, the young farm boy Michel who befriends Brigitte’s character.
By the end of Forbidden Games, Michel has gone through a tumble of emotions as he makes a new friend and then loses her. And all the while, he is going through the growing pains of youth as a full participant in the family farm work during a stressful time of war.
But Paulette still had her grasp on everyone’s heart during the movie, as we wondered how she would get from one day to the next, after watching her parents and (maybe just as importantly) her dog get killed in the film’s opening sequences.
Another thing that came across more strongly on the big screen was the pain of the separation of Paulette from her new, but temporary, family of Michel, his parents, and his siblings.
In some ways, Forbidden Games would have been an appropriate title for Sunshine Superman. During the documentary, participants often talked about how they pushed the local laws to the limit as they pursued a sport that became known as BASE jumping—parachuting from Buildings, Antennas, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs).
The leader of this group, Carl Boenish, was a powerhouse of enthusiasm who often made very compelling arguments for attempting what are very risky activities. Throughout the movie, you felt that this former engineer had a strong awareness of the laws of nature, and that he genuinely wanted to inspire others to push the limits of their capabilities, even by just getting up and mowing the lawn.
After Sunshine Superman, most people in the DFT crowd seemed powerfully moved and inspired by Carl Boenish and his fellow jumpers, even after learning that Carl tragically and fatally learned the limits of nature, just a few hours after one of his most famous jumps.
The closing credits were almost as entertaining as the movie, with Donovan singing the song that gave the movie its title, and final happy images of Carl and his loving wife and jump partner Jean Boenish.
During Sunshine Superman, Carl Boenish talked about how being child-like can mean that nobody has told you yet what you can’t do. Later, I thought about how that helped explain parts of Forbidden Games, in which Paulette and Michel play some innocently blasphemous games that anger some adults, but help the two young children cope with the challenges of the much bigger world.
Copyright 2015 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.