Les enfants du paradis (Marcel Carné, 1945) wr. Jacques Prévert, dp Roger Hubert; Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Herrand, Pierre Renoir, Maria Casarès, Louis Salou, Gaston Modot
The English translation of the title (above) is misleading. The primary meaning of 'paradis' refers to the gallery in the theatre above the dress circle. In the town in which I live, in His Majesty's Theatre, it's called 'the gods'. So the 'children' are, primarily, the enthusiastic audience in the upper gallery of Les Funambles, who adore the performances of Baptiste (Barreau).
Bosley Crowther (1947):
... M. Carne is Platonically observing the melancholy masquerade of life, the riddle of truth and illusion, the chimeras of la comédie humaine.And if that sounds like a mouthful, you may rest emphatically assured that M. Carne has bitten off a portion no less difficult to chew. For his story concerns the crisscrossed passions of a group of Parisian theatre folks—clowns, charlatans and tragedians—in the mid-nineteenth century. It is a story of the fatal attraction of four different men to one girl, a creature of profound and dark impulses, in the glittering milieu of the demimonde. And to render it even more Platonic, he has framed this human drama within the gilded proscenium of the theatre, as though it were but a pageant on the stage—a pageant to hypnotize and tickle the shrilling galleries, the "children of the Gods'."
Obviously such an Olympian—or classical—structure for a film presumes a proportionate disposition to philosophize from the audience. And it assumes a responsibility of dramatic clarity. Unfortunately, the pattern of the action does not support the demand. There is a great deal of vague and turgid wandering in Les Enfants du Paradis, and its network of love and hate and jealousy is exceptionally tough to cut through. Its concepts are elegant and subtle, its connections are generally remote and its sad fatalistic conclusion is a capstone of futility. (New York Times).
Desson Howe (1990):
It's fascinating to imagine this collaboration between painter-poet Jacques Prevert and director Carne being made slap in the middle of Nazi occupation, amid a world of collaborators and Resistance fighters, bloodshed and rationing. "Paradise," set in 19th-century Paris, with its world of starving street actors, pickpockets, underworld characters, bullying police, unrequited lovers and ribald theater entertainment, was not exactly a far cry from its time. Washington Post.
Brian Stonehill (1991):
Children of Paradise is the high-water mark of the Golden Age of French cinema. This is the movie that is routinely ranked number one of all time, in surveys of French film critics of French movies. More than once it has been called the “Gone with the Wind of French films,” for the fondness in which it is held. Children of Paradise is always playing in a Paris moviehouse, just as Gone with the Wind is in permanent residence in Atlanta. ...
... This is, after all, a backstage film, a movie that tells us, in the style of poetic realism, how theater people live—and how the stage mirrors and transmutes what they experience in life. Marcel Carné, as he tells us in an exclusive interview on this disc, explicitly conceived the film as “cinema’s homage to the theater.” Children of Paradise: The name refers, at least initially, to the “kids” who sit in the cheapest (and highest) seats at the local vaudeville house. But the title expands to cover the actors whose offstage lives we enter, and eventually includes us as their audience.
Above all, this is a love story: how four different men loved the same woman in four different ways.
And it’s an adventure story full of transformations, duels, and yes, even murder. Three of the main characters are historical. Baptiste Deburau (1796-1846) and Frederick Lematre (1800-1876; played by Pierre Brasseur) were two of the most famous stage performers of their day. Pierre-Francois Lacenaire (1800-1836; played by Marcel Herrand) was a famous criminal and dandy, on whom Dostoevsky based the character of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Carné and Prévert used documents from the period, including engravings of Paris’ colorful boulevard life at the time, in part to inspire designer Alexandre Trauner’s breathtakingly deep sets, and also to give historical ballast to their own multi-decked story.
This is classic cinema: a moment in time and in the history of the imagination, captured with extraordinary visual richness and bravura performances. (Criterion Collection)
Rogert Ebert (2002):
... the movie is not a historical epic but a sophisticated, cynical portrait of actors, murderers, swindlers, pickpockets, prostitutes, impresarios and the decadent rich. Many of the characters are based on real people, as is its milieu of nightclubs, dives and dens, theaters high and low, and the hiding places of the unsavory. ...
... Carne's screenplay was by his usual collaborator Jacques Prevert; they not only set their story in a theatrical world but divert from the action to show the actors at work. Kael counts five kinds of theatrical performances, and they would include Baptiste's miming and a scene from Othello that provides oblique reflections on the plot. It is Baptiste whose art leaves the greatest impression. Jean-Louis Barrault (1910-1994), then a star at the Comedie Francais, is first seen in clown makeup, glumly surveying the Boulevard of Crime, brought to life only by his mimed defense of Garance. Later, he stages his own extended mime performance--only to see, from the stage, Garance flirting in the wings. No one's trust is repaid in this movie. Roger Ebert.
Dudley Andrew (2012):
Minor characters, like the ragpicker and the comic proprietor of the Théâtre des Funambules, appear as if caricatured by Daumier. And why not, for Daumier had been inspired to create his famous Robert Macaire series after witnessing the real-life Lemaître play Macaire in 1834. As for the look of the major characters, Carné explicitly references as a source a masterpiece of late mannerist painting, La grande odalisque, when the ineffably beautiful Garance tells the police that she models nude for Monsieur Ingres. Other characters seem to have stepped out of illustrations for romantic novels of the time by Victor Hugo (The Last Day of a Condemned Man) or Stendhal (The Red and the Black), or even Balzac (Père Goriot). Altogether, then, Children of Paradise enthralls us not just with its subject and themes but also, and far more, with its exquisite manner of rendering them. Like grand opera, its melodrama is woven by lyrical voices expressing themselves floridly in duets, trios, and quartets, and in close-ups that amount to arias, whose effect is augmented because they are set against breathtaking choral scenes. (Criterion Collection)
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