Les Enfants du Paradis (Marcel Carné, 1945)
What a masterpiece! Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), from a scénario by Jacques Prévert, is a French poetic realist film that takes place within the Boulevard du Temple, Paris during the 1830's. After a few preliminary initial attempts to make the film, it was finally produced by the French Pathé studio. The film sets were brilliantly designed by Alexandre Trauner, the costumes were beautifully crafted, and the inordinate amount of extras all go to create an authentic bustling 19th century Paris. In, and surrounding, two different theaters, the pantomime Funambules and the thespian Grand, the film is about the putting on of plays, the working class life of artist's, and their romantic plights.
Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) is the principal pantomime throughout the film. We learn his back story through revealing conversations between him and the women he loves Garance (Arletty). He was beaten as a child, his father did not love him, and he was a prolific dreamer. His moonstruck manner is readily acknowledgeable and with the heartfelt confessions between him and Garance he creates this timeless Pierrot figure who remains one of the greatest romantic’s of film history.
Baptiste: What do I care about life ? It isn't life I love, its you!
The title of the film derives from theater terminology, “Paradis” is used to refer to the second balcony with its more affordable tickets and which is usually populated by the working class. The nostalgia for the physical theater is at the root of the film. Baptiste scenes at the Funambules (where mime's get taxed if they speak on stage) is an example of what we have lost through our advancement in entertainment. Baptiste stage performance in the film is contrasted with the melodramatic Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur). When Lemaître acts it is more about his grandiose self-worth then it is about the material, humility, and humanity. Baptiste in all natural beauty through speechlessness can accentuate his physiognomy, expressiveness, gentleness, and gracefulness.
Carné perfectly frames Baptiste scenes in long shots to show him off in full body interacting with the stage where he uses his entire body to communicate his deeds and feelings, and perfect pitch close-ups emphasizing his loneliness and sadness. While he on stage his character, and performance, gets terribly interconnected with his real life relationships which lead to some heartbreaking method-mime acting. Finally, made in 1943, during the Nazi occupation of France, the film is apolitical, except in its tragic suggestions and its open ending which supposes that there are no jubilant conclusions.
Happiness and pain! Wistful and sentimental! I hope you enjoy the show!-David Davidson
(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 05/27-06/01)