Monday, January 12, 2015
Children of Paradise
Directed by Marcel Carne and written by Jacques Prevert, Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) is the story of a beautiful courtesan who would endure different romances with different men during the Parisian theater scene in the early 19th Century. The film is an exploration of a woman who would be part of a new world as the men she meets would find inspiration. Starring Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Herrand, and Pierre Renoir. Les Enfants du Paradis is a tremendously rich and evocative film from Marcel Carne.
Set in two different periods during the early 19th Century in the Parisian theater scene, the film revolves around four different men who would each have a romance with a courtesan as it would make major impacts of their lives. With the first half set in 1827 and the second half set seven years later, these four men would encounter each other as they each share their moments with this woman. Some of which would bear emotional scars into their love for her as it would come back to haunt them as it’s told in two different parts. The first half is set in a theater district where this courtesan named Garance (Arletty) would be in the world of theater as she meets a professional thief in Pierre-Francois Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), a mime in Baptiste Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault), an aspiring actor Frederick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), and later on, a count in Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou).
Jacques Prevet’s screenplay definitely plays into Garance’s meeting with Lacenaire, Baptiste, and Lemaitre in this thriving Parisian theater district of Boulevard du Temple where Baptiste is the son of a revered mime actor for a mime-theater company with Lemaitre wanting to be part of that. Lacenaire is a man who is known for being a con as he would use Garance to do schemes for his secret crimes. Both Lemaitre and Baptiste would both fall for Garance where the latter would be deeply in love with her but has to contend with Lemaitre for her affections. For Garance, she adores these men but things get complicated by the appearance of Count de Montray during a play where she, Baptiste and Lemaitre were in as she would later be with him when she gets into trouble due to a scheme by Lacenaire. It then leads into the second half where Baptiste and Lemaitre would each endure different success in their careers but both them endure different struggles where Lacenaire would return to the scene in an attempt to find some redemption and cause trouble.
Prevet’s screenplay definitely plays into the ideas of fates and decisions as it would all come into play in the film’s second half where it is clear that Garance has made some impact in Baptiste, Lacenaire, and Lemaitre in some respects. Yet, they would all come to ahead when Lemaitre who has become a rival of Baptiste shows up to a stage performance of Baptiste where Garance is there as it would add all sorts of complications. Even as revelations about her relationship with Count de Montray start to be unveiled which would open the door for Lacenaire to create some havoc of his own as it relates to what kind of person the count is. Even as all of these characters come together in the third act during a big moment for Lemaitre as emotions run high where several characters would each contend with their own feelings and actions.
Marcel Carne’s direction is truly exquisite as he creates a film that definitely feels like a world in Paris that was once lively as it was filmed during one of France’s most horrendous periods when it was under occupation in Nazi Germany during World War II. Through its bombastic crowd scenes in the neighborhoods in Paris, Carne uses a lot of wide shots along with crane and high angle shots to play into the extravagance of this world during those times. Even the wide shots play to the look of the plays in the stage where there’s a lot of shots sort of set from balconies and cheap seats where the crowd are the most jovial. The framing of these wide shots and how Carne moves the camera to capture some of the action plays into a world that feels escapist though elements of realism are set behind the scenes where it’s often chaotic at times.
The direction also plays into a sense of intimacy in the way characters are portrayed through medium shots while there aren’t many close-ups in the film as it plays into the surroundings of these characters. Especially in the second half where Carne’s use of wide shots and camera movements play into how Lemaitre and Baptiste approach their performances and personal successes. The tone of the film definitely changes into something that is more refined with lavish houses and staging yet there is this growing disconnect that looms in the film as it relates to the principle characters. It all comes to ahead in Lemaitre’s theatrical performance as well as it’s aftermath where characters make some key decisions and sacrifices into their fates. Overall, Carne crafts a very sensational and rapturous film about fates and decisions involving a beautiful courtesan and four men.
Cinematographer Roger Hubert does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography as it‘s filled with lovely lighting schemes for some of its interiors as well as its use of lights in the theaters while creating moods and texture into some of the nighttime exterior scenes. Editors Henri Rust and Madeleine Bloom do fantastic work with the editing with its approach to rhythmic cuts, transition wipes, and fade-outs to play into the drama and humor that is prevalent in the story. Production designer Alexandre Trauner, with art directors Leon Barsacq and Raymond Gabutti, does amazing work with the set design of the stage performances as well as the apartment Lemaitre and Baptiste would stay in the first half of the film to the mansion of Count de Montray.
The film’s costumes by Antoine Mayo is excellent for its lavish look from the dresses that Garance wears to the clown costumes of Baptiste. The sound work of Jean Monchablon is superb for the sparse sounds for the plays as well as the layers of noise for scenes involving the crowds. The film’s music by Joseph Kosma and Maurice Thiriet is wonderful for its lush and bombastic orchestral score to play into Baptiste’s mime performances as well as other moments in the play including some carnival music that is played in the crowd scenes.
The film’s extraordinary cast includes some notable small roles from Louis Florencie as a policeman who suspects Garance, Pierre Palau as a theater company stage manager who would shout out fines, Marcel Peres as the theater company director trying to deal with the chaos of the plays, Jane Marken as a landlady in Madame Hermine, Gaston Modot as a blind man Baptiste would befriend in the film’s first half, Fabien Loris as Lacenaire’s aide Avril, and Etienne Decroux as Baptiste’s father who is also a stage performer as he takes part in his son’s success. Maria Casares is terrific as the company director’s daughter/actress Nathalie who is in love with Baptiste as she later copes with Garance’s presence in the film’s second half. Louis Salou is superb as Count de Montray as this man who admires Garance as he offers her everything only to contend with the other men in her life in the film’s second half.
Pierre Renoir is fantastic as a peddler named Jericho who works for the theater as he’s a man that often helps Lacenaire in his schemes as well as bring discomfort to Baptiste. Marcel Herrand is excellent as Lacenaire as a professional thief who is eager to create chaos as he later copes with debt and ruin as he hopes to find redemption in helping out Lemaitre. Pierre Brasseur is brilliant as Frederick Lemaitre as an aspiring actor who falls for Garance as he has a relationship with her that doesn’t last as he copes with success as well as debt as he yearns to be respected. Jean-Louis Barrault is incredible as Baptiste Deburau as this mime who is devoted to his craft as he wants Garance to love him only to suffer from her rejection as he later tries to find happiness through his work. Finally, there’s Arletty in a radiant performance as Garance as a courtesan who is romanced by four men as she manages to bring a lot for them as she later copes with the decisions and fates of her life as well as the shame of being with someone who doesn’t really love her.
Les Enfants du Paradis is a splendidly rich and dazzling film from Marcel Carne. Armed with a great cast, fantastic production settings, lovely music, and a compelling script by Jacques Prevet. It is truly one of the finest films in French cinema as well as an essential look into the concept of poetic realism in the way it plays into a period of time and how it related to what was happening in France. In the end, Les Enfants du Paradis is an outstanding film from Marcel Carne.
Marcel Carne Films: (Bizarre, Bizarre) - (Port of Shadows) - (Hotel du Nord) - (Le Jour Se Leve) - (Les Visiteurs du Soir) - (Gates of the Night) - (La Marie du port) - (Juliette, or Key of Dreams) - (Therese Raquin (1953 film)) - (Air of Paris) - (Three Rooms in Manhattan) - (Law Breakers)
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