Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Children of Paradise

(Les enfants du paradis, France, 1945)

The back story on this movie is almost as interesting as the movie itself. Briefly, it was made during the Nazi occupation of France, against daunting odds. If you want to know more, Robert Ebert provides a nice summary of the circumstances. Because the Nazis wouldn’t allow any films longer than 90 minutes the director, Marcel Carné, just cut it into two pieces. It is not an entirely artificial separation—the first part is livelier, the second darker—but it is basically one long film. It was released as:

Part 1: The Boulevard of Crime. (Le boulevard du crime)
Part 2: The Man in White. (L’homme blanc)

The movie has been called the French Gone With the Wind, which is a bit misleading, as it is by no means an epic. No great historical events happen. It is a movie on a grand scale, the most expensive made in France up to that time, and there are expansive sets and thousands of extras and a huge sense of movement and life. And it was the most popular film in France until the New Wave came along and made it seem old fashioned.

It still seems old-fashioned, to me, in a way that Gone With the Wind doesn’t, in that it is intentionally stagy; in fact, the best parts of it happen on stage. I quite enjoyed it, particularly the spectacle, the movement both out in the street and in the theaters, and I can see why it is a classic highly esteemed by many … but it will never find a place in my heart. It is a story of obsessive love, never my favorite genre, and obsessive jealousy. One central theme is Othello, which is my least favorite of Shakespeare’s Top Ten. Four men fall madly in love with one woman, who can’t really love anybody at all. That’s basically it, and for three hours we see everybody screw up their lives over this. I guess I’m not a real romantic person.

The best things in it are Arletty, as the Garbo-esque siren, and Jean-Louis Barrault as the mime Pierrot … but not for the character he plays, who is an innocent and, basically, a love-sick idiot, but for his wonderful mime performances on the stage.