The Musical Box: Marion Cotillard Plays Wicked Games in Love Me If You Dare

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Julien (Guillaume Canet, left) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard, right) can't stay away from playing their dares game.
Julien (Guillaume Canet, left) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard, right) can’t stay away from playing their dares game.

Jeux d’enfants by French director Yann Samuell begins as a rather sad version of Amélie but develops a dynamic of its own which leads to catastrophe. The young Julien Janvier (Guillaume Canet), whose mother is on the brink of dying from cancer, meets Sophie Kowalsky (Marion Cotillard), a Polish classmate who is bullied. They become friends und develop a dares game which has only one rule: Whoever gets the musical box must do whatever he is asked.

As they grow up their games become more and more daring. They turn from childish to perverse, as Julien puts it. Julien and Sophie have relationships of their own but still are attracted to each other in twisted kind of love – which becomes obvious when Julien stands before the altar and is asked whether he wants to marry his fiancée. Sophie passes him the musical box with the instruction, ‘No!’. Julien takes revenge by requesting Sophie to stand on the rails with her eyes blindfolded until the train is arriving. She survives but demands that they won’t meet for 10 years. After the time has passed their reunion sets off a chain reaction that can’t be stopped.

Love Me If You Dare (the English title of Jeux d’enfants) is based on a similar idea to that which Edgar Allan Poe developed in his short story “The Imp of the Perverse”. Said imp tempts us to do things that are against our own feelings or reason. It makes a speaker who is used to give short and concise speeches speak tediously and annoyingly to the audience. It makes us postpone things that urgently need to be done, although we know that we harm ourselves. It makes us reluctantly jump into the abyss when there is no one to stop us.

Julien and Sophie have true affections for each other since their childhood, but certain circumstances or something within themselves – you can’t really decide – always makes real intimacy impossible. Both are driven by their passion, which not only involves love but the wish to hurt and even destroy the loved person. The audience is left in the dark which temptation the protagonists will finally give in to, love or death.

Love Me If You Dare draws a landscape of ambiguous feelings reaching from love to utter aggression. They’re captured in such beautiful pictures and perfect pace by the director, Yann Samuell, that it’s a real pleasure to watch. It’s not only a motion picture but a fierce experience you should not miss.