La guerre des tuques

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The French-Canadian film La guerre des tuques (1984) follows a bunch of kids in rural Quebec who decide to spend their Christmas break engaging in war games. Armed with wooden swords, homemade costumes and hundreds of snowballs the Children wreck havoc all over the countryside. But the games come to an end tragically on the last day of winter break when the snow fort collapses on the beloved St. Bernard Cléo (Lucy).

La guerre des tuques was the first film produced by Les Productions la Fête as part of the Contes pour tous series. The director of La guerre des tuques, André Melançon, would direct two more films in the series. Melançon has a reputation for making sophisticated films for children that take the stakes of childhood seriously. This is more than represented in La guerre des tuques where the war games are shot with dynamism and respect.

Visually, the war games in La guerre des tuques are shot and blocked to evoke combat scenes in classic war films. This choice essentially puts the viewer directly into the subjective experience of the war games from the perspective of the children. Rapid shots of snowballs flying and hitting their targets are punctuated not by the macho sentiments of a war film, but childish cries for “fairness”, “mommies”, and “time-outs”. At the beginning these bold choices feel comedic, but by the end of the film the spectacle of snowball combat has taken on a more serious tone.

Likewise, La guerre des tuques adopts a number of tropes from the war film genre. One such tope is that of the doomed romance between a boy and girl fighting on opposing sides. This plot point is consistently alluded too visually and with the music in the film, but never fully developed if only because the participants are roughly nine years old and incapable of taking a romance further than some longing looks and a kiss on the cheek.

The most significant trope that is deployed in La guerre des tuques is the death of the innocent. The accidental death of Cléo snaps the kids out of their fantasy and back to reality. Her death reminds the children and audience alike of the reality of mortality. It’s a heartbreakingly traumatic scene to watch a little boy frantically attempt to dig his beloved dog out of the collapsed snow fort. It’s a moment that is as moving and poignant as anything in Jeux Interdits (1952). The death of Cléo marks a shift in the style of the film away from the subjective pretense of the war game to realism, then to a reassuringly sentimental program of slow motion shots set to a song by Nathalie Simard.

All of this makes La guerre des tuques a singular entry in children’s holiday films. La guerre des tuques has become a classic over the years with its authentic “kid’s eye view” of the world and its quiet pathos. The fact that it’s getting a new Blu-Ray special edition will hopefully expose this classic film to all new audiences.