CHILDREN OF PARADISE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Herrand, Pierre
Renoir, Maria Casares, Louis Salou September 18,
Director: Marcel Carne
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 190 Minutes
September 18, 2012
always sad when someone has to sleep alone.”
of Paradise is
one of the most beloved French movies of all time. It earned international fame not only for the quality of the
picture itself, but under the almost unimaginable conditions under which it was
shot for two years during the Nazi occupation of France, when economics were at
their worst. The Germans oversaw
nearly every aspect of making movies in those days, and had strict rules about
content, length, and the number of Germans that had to be employed per
production. Director Marcel Carne
had a crew that actually consisted of Nazis and resistance fighters working side
by side with no knowledge of each other’s existence, and even at least two
Jews serving as scorer and production designer in the strictest of secrecy.
often had to be shut down and moved from Paris to Nice and back again whenever
conditions made it impossible to continue…yet with all this adversity, the
highest compliment one could pay Carne is that you’d never tell it by looking
at his finished product.
movie is a grand period piece and costume drama told on an impressively large
scale. Watch how the curtain opens
on the first part, “The Boulevard of Crime”, and you’ll see people and
landscapes seemingly stretched into infinity (an optical illusion, but an
impressive one). You’ll see
French people at their most beautiful and poetic; not the sad, starving faces of
those suffering under Nazi oppression. Most
of all, you’ll see a picture that embraces the simple idea of love. More than embrace it, actually…more like revel in it and
heart of the movie is the tale of four men who love one woman, each in a
different way. That woman is
Garance (Arletty), the calm catalyst of the picture.
The men are the mime Baptiste (Barrault), who loved her tragically, the
actor Frederick LeMaitre (Brasseur), who loved her comically, the Count Edouard
de Montray (Salou) who loved her possessively, and the sly criminal Lacenaire (Herrand)
who loved her cynically…by his own admission, he does not love her; she
is merely the only woman he doesn’t hate.
we understand, is a high class courtesan, though this is never addressed
directly in the narrative. Our
first glance of her is in a well, where she revolves naked with a mirror…part
of a sideshow exhibit where she is called “truth”.
It’s hard to read her sometimes…she is a little older, very
beautiful, very smart, but a little too good at role playing.
Her enigmatic behavior invites us along for the story, over which her
true feelings begin to emerge, slowly but surely.
by one, we see her encounter the main men in the story.
Frederick is an aspiring actor with a delightfully pompous charm who woos
her in the street with an unashamed obviousness.
Lacenaire is more or less the villain of the piece.
His cool attitude is one of calling things by their proper name, and one
that isn’t above the blackest of deeds when he feels they best serve his
picture’s real romantic heart comes between Garance and Baptiste, the mime.
When we first encounter him on the streets, he is doing nothing, but he
springs to life in a delightful short performance to defend Garance against a
false pickpocketing charge. The
grateful lady throws him a rose, and from that moment on, the talented Baptiste
has only one love and passion.
doesn’t help that the theatre owner’s daughter, Nathalie (Casares) also
loves him, with a pitiful unrequited love, nor does the arrival of Frederick to
their little theatre company (or to the boarding house where Baptiste rents his
room). Before long, Garance will
have wandered in and out of both men’s beds, without a lot of tell-tale
final man is the Count, who is a Freudian delight. He does things big where Garance is concerned, presenting her
with a bouquet so large that it looks like he just dug up some bush, and holding
his high silk hat phallically on his lap. He presents her with a card to use in case she ever finds
herself in trouble, and as fate would have it, she has to use it at the end of
the first part, when once again falsely accused of a crime.
Two starts about six years later. Garance
had left France with the Count, the sad Baptiste married Nathalie and had a son
with her, Frederick has become a legitimate star of the stage, and Lacenaire is
still Lacenaire. As Garance was a
disruption to the men in the first part, she becomes so again, when she returns
in hopes of rekindling her love with Baptiste, not knowing he’s married…and
unfortunately for him, that’s of little matter when it comes to her.
is larger than life in this picture…every character feeds off of it in one
form or another, and speaks in a heightened, beautiful language as a result.
The picture is not melodrama as much as it is sheer poetry.
Feelings are big here, as are actions and reactions.
There are no small nor fruitless gestures at hand here.
It’s only fitting that Frederick’s favorite play is Othello, for
like Shakespeare’s Moor, this film is peopled with those who love not wisely,
but too well.
addition to being a dramatically rich story filled with memorable characters,
the movie is gorgeously filmed…as Terry Gilliam points out in his
introduction, there is an almost silvery quality to the images, as though
everything had been filmed by moonlight. It’s
one of the most beautiful black and white pictures I’ve seen…not overly
expressive, but gentle and thoughtful in the way luminescence can add to a
story. The lighting really is what
makes Garance Garance.
film actually premiered after the end of the occupation, and was instantly
heralded as a masterwork, running continuously for over a year.
As Roger Ebert pointed out, it plays somewhere in France every week to
this day. One can easily see why
some call it the greatest French film ever…it’s filled with ideas and
emotions, terrific performances, and a heightened sense of style that few
pictures have ever duplicated.
worked miracles again with this terrific new transfer.
Children of Paradise will probably never look better than it does
right here. Which is not to say it
has been completely rescued from the ravages of time…indeed, a few stretches
here and there could only be brought back so far…but darn near.
The lustrous images have been restored to their full luminescent quality
(yes, very silvery), and are returned to their original sharpness and contrast
levels. By and large, the clean up
is impressive, with much of the telltale marks, spots and scratches digitally
removed. A few darker segments fell
into the category of a little harder to fix (a fact that Criterion doesn’t shy
away from in the restoration demonstration), but one can’t argue that overall,
the results are more than impressive. Once
again, this company has done right by lovers of great cinema.
audio has also been brought back a long way…though dialogue clarity is never
an issue (being in French), this new track restores a lot of the original
dynamic range brought about by the music, effects and speeches.
There is a bit of background noise noticeable from time to time, but
nothing distracting, and certainly acceptable given the picture’s age and
portion of the film has its own excellent commentary track…Part One features
film scholar Brian Stonehill, who addresses a lot of the background of the film,
including those of the actors and the real-life people a couple of them
portrayed. Part Two features film
scholar Charles Affron, who picks up the discussions of the motifs and themes,
development of the characters, and ultimately, the film’s reception and long
cinematic life. Both men are
intelligent and good speakers, and offer a wealth of information to help enhance
the enjoyment of this French classic.
One also includes a video introduction by Terry Gilliam and a restoration
demonstration (a real eye-opener). Disc
Two rounds out with a VERY Americanized trailer for the film, looks at the film
treatment and production design, filmographies, and a stills gallery.
Children of Paradise is a film no serious film lover can afford to pass up. With this nicely restored Blu-ray offering from Criterion, there hasn’t been a better way to experience Marcel Carne’s luminous masterpiece since the 1940s.