It should come as no surprise that filmmaker Rene Clement spent five years in search of financing for this unsparing look at the ravages of war on children. It's not that the violence in the film is so intense; even both of the story's young protagonists, Paulette and Michel Dolle, survive without a scratch. But the portrait Forbidden Games paints of its adult characters is unsparingly disdainful; this is not exactly a tribute to the imperishable spirit of the French people during wartime. Paulette and Michel have their own way of dealing with war, by building a cemetery for animals in an abandoned mill. Michel's parents and older siblings and their neighbors, the Grouards, have their way, too, by sniping at each other and jockeying for position among the community as to who is perceived as the most generous -- or least selfish. The Dolles' decision to take in Paulette is based in part on their fear that if the Grouards do the same, they'll earn another civilian medal. There is more than one set of forbidden games being played here: The secret that Paulette and Michel share runs parallel to an affair between Michel's teenaged sister, Berthe, and the Grouard's son, Francis, a soldier on leave. But even here, the children come off as more noble than their furtively groping adult counterparts. For a story with the potential to drip with easy sentimentality (generous peasant family takes in adorable war orphan), Forbidden Games offers something more bracing: a clear-eyed view of the innocence of children and the myopia of adults amid the ravages of war. Nothing else in Clement's career matched the achievement of this classic.