Children of Paradise (1945) – Marcel Carne

 

I like when I come across a film I’ve never heard of, and discover a new favorite. Thanks to the next Drama title in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, I’ve discovered my new favorite French film, Children of Paradise.

Clocking in at just over three hours, this wonderfully character-driven film focuses on a mime, Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), an actor, Frederick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), a playwright/thief/murderer, Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) and a rich count, Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou) and the woman who holds sway over all of them, Garance (Arletty).

Each character is given ample time to develop, and the viewer gets to see their lives, they way they intertwine, and the way that each of them exists on their own. There is a lot of drama, tragedy, and a surprising amount of laughs.

Barrault shines as Baptiste, as his heartache shows on his face when he realizes that Garance may not feel the same way about him as he does her, and the pain that causes the woman who does love him, Natalie (Marie Casares). He turns in wonderful performances on the stage, clearly a master of his craft.

Brasseur’s Frederick gets to walk a rather joyous line on stage, from a flamboyant, egocentric actor, to a legend of the stage.

And weaving around the two of them, and the other characters, is Garance, who has worked to keep all of them at a distance, but realizes that she may have lost the one man who truly loves her for her, but that doesn’t mean she won’t agree to see him again.

children-of-paradise Baptist Star_DEtail

Carne has made a wonderfully put together film, that engages, entertains, and is very much not Hollywood fare by the time it reaches its end.

There is a wide cast of supporting characters, fathers, managers, thugs, seconds, playwrights, and actors, all of them wandering through the film unforgettably, each of them impacting the story and the characters, as the film sprawls over a number of years.

I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this film, and what’s more can’t believe I hadn’t even heard of it before I got this book. A highly enjoyable film, and I think one that may be watched again soon, and added into my collection on a permanent basis.

I love the stage performances, but I love the off-stage interactions as well. There are a number of great moments, my favorite has to be when Lemaitre hijacks the opening night of his show, as he hates the script so much, and goes completely off book, and starts improvising everything, much to the audience’s delight, but to the consternation of his fellow actors and the playwrights.

The ending is suitably French, love ruins Baptiste’s life, while the rest of the world celebrates.

The only issue I had with the finale is that for some reason, his son didn’t recognize his father’s voice when he ran by. It may have been more poignant with the boy chasing his dad, while he chases his only love. Still, I really liked this one a lot!

Have you seen it?

Les enfants du paradis - Deuxième époque : L'homme blanc

 

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