Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), known in English as Children of Paradise and Children of the Gods consecutively , is masterful work of cinema. This epic tear jerker romance is one of the greatest classics of all time. Loved by the French and any other cinema enthusiast, with highly cultured and aesthetic taste, from around the globe. Among the greatest classics ever made.
Children of Paradise (1945) Classic NS 1What the movie is about (including the plot summary)

This movie is centred around a stage (mime) artiste, and his painful love for a kind hearted beauty, who’s been pursued by three other suitors; another stage actor, a criminal and an aristocrat. Yet, the beauty only loves the innocent eyed mime artiste, but varying circumstances won’t let them be together. One of the greatest tragic love stories ever, Les Enfants du Paradis, to the French is what Gone with the Wind (1939) is to Americans, and Mother India (1957) is to Indians. The, over three hours long, movie is divided into two parts.

1re Partie (Part – I)
Boulevard du Crime
1827: The film begins with a camera panning through the crowds at a fair on Boulevard du Temple, in Paris, nicknamed ‘Boulevard du Crime’ due to the crime melodramas that were so popular in many a theatres around there at the time. We see Garance (Arletty), a beautiful woman who earns her living by modestly exhibiting her physical charms in a carnival show. As she walks along the Boulevard through the crowds, we meet an actor named Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), Garance’s first suitor, who tries to flirt with her, unsuccessfully. Then we meet Pierre-François Lacunaria (Marcel Herrand), a ruthless thief, who fronts as a scribe, to cover up his organised criminal enterprises, Garance’s next pursuer. Shortly at the fair, Garance is accused of stealing a watch, which was actually stolen by Pierre-François, while they were watching a pantomime, featuring mime artiste, Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault), Garance’s third suitor, the only one Garance truly falls in love with. Having witnessed the whole crime, Baptiste, who’s dressed up as Pierrot; a stereotypical fictional character, famous in Italy and France; mimes out what actually took place to the police and the victim, in turn saving Garance from being arrested. Garance reciprocates with a flower, which Baptiste saves, who’s already madly in love with Garance. And Garance too, sympathetic towards his innocent sad eyes, loves him back. But neither says anything to one another.

Soon we see all three, Garance, Baptiste and Frédérick Lemaître working on the same stage, and living in the same residential apartment house, as neighbours. Meanwhile a fourth suitor, a rich aristocrat, propositions Garance to be his mistress. Love, jealousy, romance and crime, all take place in the first part itself. It’s so beautifully filmed with great difficulty. The movie was made during the second world war, through endless problems. What the cast and crew endured, through both, natural, and man made, disasters, whilst making such a great movie, adds to it’s high status.
Children of Paradise (1945) Classic NS 3A Look Behind the Troubled Scenes
Starting off with, the quarter-mile long main set, of ‘Boulevard du Temple’ a.k.a. Boulevard du Crime, was severely damaged by a storm and had to be rebuilt entirely. The set builders were short of supplies and the camera crew’s film stock was rationed. The financing, of the initial French-Italian production, suddenly had to stop just few weeks after production began in Nice, thanks to the conquest of Sicily in August 1943. Meanwhile, the Nazis forbade the producer, André Paulvé, from working on the film because of his remote Jewish ancestry. The production had to be suspended for three months. Soon the French film company Pathé took over the production, but their cost were uncontrollably escalating. Things were made worse by the theatrical constraints during the German occupation of France during World War II. The Vichy administration under Nazi Germany had imposed a maximum time limit of 90 minutes for a feature films, thus the epic film had to be split into two parts, against the wishes of film director, Marcel Carné.

Alexandre Trauner, Set Designer, and Joseph Kosma, Music Composer, were both Jewish, and had to work and live in secrecy throughout the production. Many of the 1,800 extras were Resistance agents using the film as daytime cover, initially mingling with some collaborators and Vichy sympathisers. The movie production had to be halted many a times, for various reasons during the war, and when resumed, in Paris, in early spring of 1944, the Director of Photography, Roger Hubert, had been assigned to another production and Philippe Agostini, who replaced him, had to analyze all the reels in order to match the lighting of the non-sequential shot list, through many a electrical power cuts.

Production was delayed again and again and later until the Allied forces landed in Normandy. When Paris was liberated in August 1944, the actor Robert Le Vigan, cast in a minor role, had to flee, as he was sentenced to death by the Resistance for collaborating with the Nazis. He was replaced at a moment’s notice by Pierre Renoir, and most of the scenes had to be redone. Le Vigan was tried and convicted as a Nazi collaborator in 1946. Director Marcel Carné along with writer Jacques Prévert, had to hide some of the key reels of film from the occupying forces, until the liberation of Paris.
Children of paradise (1945) Classic NS 22e partie (Part – II)
L’Homme Blanc
Without giving away much of how Part – I ended, the second part starts some years later. The two platonic lovers, who were never together (intimately), in the first part, have separated due to various reasons. Mime artiste, Baptiste Debureau, is now in a loveless marriage, with stage actress Nathalie (María Casarès), who we see pine for Baptiste’s attention in the first part. Nathalie plays his ever suffering devoted wife, who selflessly loves him with all her heart, even though he doesn’t feel the same for her. They even have a son together, but nothing can make Baptiste ever truly love his wife. Meanwhile we see Garance; whose real name, we discover is Claire Reine, by the end of Part – I; unhappily living under the rich aristocrat, Count Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou) for protection, to save herself from being arrested for an attempted murder, that she wasn’t involved in. Again the party that tried to commit the crime is none other than the thief, Pierre-François, towards the end of Part – I. In Part – II, Garance has been globetrotting with the Count for a number of years, and just returned to Paris.

A chance meeting between, Frédérick Lemaître, now a great stage artiste himself, and Garance, in a private Box, at the pantomime performance starring Baptiste, gives rise to a poisonous envy, within Frédérick, once he realises that Garance truly only loves Baptiste. Frédérick later enacts Shakespeare’s Othello, to perfection, focusing his own jealousy towards his own ‘Desdemona’, i.e. Garance. Meanwhile the Count too finds himself a victim of jealousy, wondering who Garance true love happens to be. During the production Othello, the Count starts to suspect Frédérick to be her secret love, and tries to provoke Frédérick to a duel.

Baptiste and Garance, never meet for majority of the second part, but when their paths do finally cross, tragedy befalls many people involved with the two lead characters. Such a sad, heart rending movie, filmed so aesthetically and brilliantly. Today it’s one of my favourite love stories ever and among the best French films I’ve ever watched. Some of the most beautiful scenes revolve around Baptiste’s character, and Jean-Louis Barrault does a superb job as the tragic mime artiste that makes others laugh yet suffers in silence. One beautiful scene is, when Baptiste, is beaten and thrown out of a Pub window in the first part, he returns wipes himself and picks up the flower that Garance thanked him with early on. Not one word spoken, and this is while he’s not in character. When in character, he performed his mimes on stage to perfection. The fluidity of his body movements, the expressions, the drama, the crime performed by a comical character. It’s pure brilliance especially his performance in Part – II. Love the set décor, the story, the analysis of love, greed and anger. The Carnivalesque situation, of disruption and celebration that happens at the same time, that takes place towards the end of movie, with one of the lead character’s (I shan’t mention whose) fate unknown, was a fascinating and unexpected ending. With brilliant actors and a superb director at the helm, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), is really worth a watch.

Excellent !!!! 10/10

Les Enfants du Paradis was shown on TV5 MONDE. Part – I, on Tuesday 8th July, 2014, and Part – II, on Tuesday 15th July, 2014.

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

Advertisements