Les Parents Terribles (film) - Production

Production

Cocteau made the important decision that his film would be strictly faithful to the writing of the play and that he would not open it out from its prescribed settings (as he had done in his previous adaptation, L'Aigle à deux têtes). He wrote no additional dialogue for the film, but substantially pruned the stage text, making the drama more concentrated. He did however reinvent the staging of the play for the camera, employing frequent boldly framed close-ups of his actors, and he made full use of a mobile camera to roam through the rooms of the apartment, emphasising the claustrophobic atmosphere of the setting. The translation from theatre to screen was a challenge which Cocteau relished: he wrote, "What is exciting about the cinema is that there is no syntax. You have to invent it as and when problems arise. What freedom for the artist and what results one can obtain!".

Another significant contribution to the atmosphere of the film was the art direction by Christian Bérard which filled the spaces of the apartment with objects and décor - awkward heavy furniture, piles of trinkets and ornaments, pictures crooked on the walls, unmade beds, and dust - which described the way in which the characters lived.

Cocteau refuted however the suggestion of some critics that this was a realist film, pointing out that he had never known any family like the one portrayed, and insisting that it was "painting of the most imaginative kind".

Filming took place between 28 April and 3 July 1948 at the Studio Francœur. Cocteau's assistant director was Raymond Leboursier, who was joined by Claude Pinoteau (uncredited).

At the time of shooting the final shot (where one sees the apartment receding into the distance), some insecure tracks for the camera produced a shaky image on the film. Rather than reshoot the scene, Cocteau made a virtue of the problem by adding the sound of carriage wheels on the soundtrack together with some words (spoken by himself) to suggest a deliberate effect: "And the caravan continued on its way. The gypsies do not stop."

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