Children of Paradise (1945)

Les Enfant du paradis (1945)
Dir. Marcel Carne
Starring: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Braseur, Maria Casares, Marcel Harrand, etc.
190 minutes
(Entertainment Weekly, Roger Ebert, Sight and Sound, and Time)

Should You See the Film?
This is a must see for fans of foreign films or great films of all time. It definitely deserves to be in a top 100 list, and possibly a top 10 list. I also enjoyed watching the film–it is accessible, and the pacing is very good; the film kept my attention for 3 hours, and there are few dead spots or wasted film. Because of that, I wouldn’t discourage people who mainly look for entertainment, but I wouldn’t strongly recommend this film either.

The movie is clearly for people who love acting and theater.

There are some great performances (especially, Barrault, Braseur and Arletty) and writing (Jaques Prevert!). The dialogue here is great, not in the sense that people talk this way, but in a more theatrical way, sometimes bordering on the poetic.

But why didn’t this receive a “10?” My initial reaction is that the film is missing something–perhaps the conventional melodramatic nature of the story makes me feel that way. Then again, I could see myself giving this film a “10.”

I’ve heard that some people consider this the greatest French film, and they may be right.

Personal Comments (spoilers)
Some random thoughts about the film:

  1. This film doesn’t appear on top 100 lists of Leonard Maltin and the Village voice which surprises me. I would guess there are two reasons for this: 1.) the film is too much like a play; the film comments on acting and writing in the theater and the filmmakers do not use the movie medium to differentiate it from the theater; 2.)the actual suject matter and story lines are not bold enough. In short, the movie feels too much like a play, and a conventional story at that.
  2. There’s a post-modern sort of moment that reminded me of Robert Altman’s The Player. Frederick (Pierre Braseur) is a great actor and thinks he’s in a terrible play. During the performance, he begins making up lines that comment and mock the play. For example, a police officer says that he knows the true identity of Frederick’s character. Frederick says, “No, you don’t. Prove it.” Looking at the audience he says, “He can’t either because that’s not in the script,” which gets big laughs from the audience. The brilliant part of the scene is that Frederick manages to end the play in a coherrent way. In the end he is shot by the police 0fficer, and says that the real people to blame for his misdeeds (as a character and ostensibly as the actor) are the playwrights, and points to them in the balcony. The curtain goes down and there is huge applause. The playwrights are furious, but they come out to take a curtain call. Brilliant.
  3. I loved the acting in this film particularly Barrault and Braseur. Barrault plays an actor who is supposed to one of the greatest mimes. There are many scenes where we see his work and his performance totall supports that claim. Braseur is also charming and funny in this film. Arletty, has some nice moments, but I’m a little more ambivalent about her performance. Sometimes she seemed a bit stiff and without emotion. She didn’t always convince me that she was passionately in love with Baptiste (Barrault).
  4. I’m wondering if the Carne intended to comment on the tension between silent filmmakers and sound filmmakers with the Baptiste (the mime) and Frederick (the thespian). They also both compete for the hand of Garance (Arletty). Arletty really loves Baptiste though, but both Baptiste and Frederick are very successful, indicating that perhaps Carne believes there is room for both.
  5. The ending was rather abrupt. Garance leaves Baptiste to save Frederick from a duel with her patron/lover. However, Garance’s patron is murdered, so really she has no duel to prevent. As she rushes off, the crowds of carnival celebration prevent Baptiste from catching up to her. The ending is a bit too unresolved, open-ended and ambiguous. I don’t think there is enough for me to draw any conclusions that would satisfy me.
  6. There are some delightful side characters in this: the theater owner, the rag man and psychotic scribe.
  7. As I mentioned earlier the dialogue is very good, particularly the more poetic moments. This is a movie that would reward repeated viewings.

1 Response to “Children of Paradise (1945)”

  1. Reid

    A new 35mm print of this film will be playing at Academy of Arts in February. If only the theater were better! nevertheless, this is really a terrific movie and that fact that they’ll be showing a new print entices me. I think many of you–particularly Mitchell, Kevin, Penny, Tony and Grace–will appreciate and enjoy what could be the greatest French film and certainly consideration for a pick in the top 20 films of all-time. Let me know if any of you are interested.

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