"Children of Paradise"
Directed by Marcel Carne
Set in the
theater district in 1840's Paris,
when pantomime and melodrama were at their height, this look at glittering
backstage life follows Garance, an elusive courtesan who is loved by four
men- a talented mime, an ambitious actor, a nihilistic villain, and a
snobbish aristocrat. Filmed during the Nazi Occupation. Starring
Jean-Louis Barrault, Arletty, Pierre Brasseur and Marcel Herrand. Famed
screenplay by Jacques Prevert. "Lushly romantic...a sumptuous epic
about the relations between theater and life."- Pauline Kael, The
New Yorker. "Children of Paradise isn"t just one of France's
great love stories- it's one of film's. Think of... Casablanca... Gone
with the Wind... It's every bit as much a classic."- Jay Carr,
Boston Globe. Black and white. French with English subtitles. 189 minutes.
"Timothy R. King"
"Marcel Carn?’s Les Enfants du Paradis is considered the French equivalent of Gone with the Wind. Filmed in 1944 during the Nazi occupation, it is an exquisite, complex epic, with brilliantly interwoven story lines, radiant performances, fabulous sets and costumes, and wonderfully theatrical sequences. This was my fourth viewing of this film and it is a picture that warrants repeat showings. One time is simply not enough for so complex and wondrous a film.
The story revolves around Garance, a beautiful woman, and the men who adore her. They are
Baptiste, the mime, Fr?d?rick, the actor, Lacenaire, the criminal, and the Count. All these men love her (though not necessarily at the same time). Baptiste and Garance end up being the ones truly in love, but they do not realize this until many years have gone by and they spend a tragically short time together (one night).
The world of the film is the world of the Parisian theatre between approximately 1827 and 1836. The characters are based on real people, except for
Garance. The costumes and sets evoke this period and place perfectly. Even the acting styles of the theatrical sequences (both at the Funambules and the Grand Theatre) are true to the acting styles and audience behavior of the time. Baptiste’s mimes, performed by Jean-Louis
Barrault, are especially impressive.
Jacques Pr?vert’s screenplay is clever, original, literate, and poetic. It doesn’t matter that some of these characters speak above their education. The weaving of the various story lines is expertly done, with time given to fully develop and explore each main character. His view of love is an interesting one: each one of his characters who are in love, end up alone. It’s a sad view, but one that works perfectly in the world that he and Carn? created. In the full screenplay, there is about an hour’s worth of material not included in the film. This material, certainly worthy of being included, would pad the film, not really adding significantly to anything but the running time. At over three hours, it’s already a long film. Another hour would make it a test of endurance.
The performers are uniformly brilliant. Could there be a more brilliant choice for Garance other than
Arletty? She is a stunningly beautiful woman. Her age (she was 48) brings an interesting quality to the role: she is a sophisticated, slightly world-weary survivor. She, like Lulu, uses her wiles to get what she wants. Unlike Lulu, Garance knows exactly what she’s doing and manipulates everyone to her own best advantage. Jean-Louis Barrault is not only a great mime, but also a wonderful actor, and a perfect tortured artist. His Baptiste begs for sympathy and usually gets it.
Fr?d?rick, played by Pierre Brasseur, is an arrogant brat, but he is fun to watch. His Othello is utterly appalling, but, hopefully, that is the point. Fr?d?rick is a terrible actor, a great compliment to
Brasseur: it takes a brilliant actor to play such a terrible actor. Marcel Herrand’s Lacenaire is totally oily and vile. Even the actors in featured roles shine, like Jeanne Maren’s delightful turn as Madame Hermine and Fabien Loris as
Avril, the queasy hit man. It is above all these performers who make this epic human.
Les Enfants du Paradis is a film that begs to be seen repeatedly. The story, sets, costumes, acting, and script all deserve attention. Seeing it once is a disservice not only to the film, but to the viewer, as well."