Classic Movie Review: Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) #AtoZChallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter E

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Les Enfants du Paradis
Release Date: March 9, 1945
Director: Marcel Carné
Production Company: Société Nouvelle Pathé Cinéma

If you’re country is occupied by a draconian regime and in the midst of some of the most destructive battles in human history,  making an epic costume drama film would probably not be a high priority. Director Marcel Carné, screenwriter Jacques Prévert, and the cast and crew of Les Enfants du Paradis (a.k.a. Children of Paradise – “merci” to the French language for letting me get an “E” post out of this) did not see German occupation or the Allied invasion of France as deterrents to making this movie. And I must impress that this isn’t a guerrilla production with a couple of cameras and a small cast.  No, this is full-on spectacle with a blocks-long city street set with 1000s of extras in costume!

The film itself is set in Paris in 1830s, focusing on the theater world and characters based on historical figures.  The “paradis” in the title refers to the highest balcony where the cheapest seats are and where the most enthusiastic and demanding audience members sat.  The central character is Garlance (Arletty), a bewitching woman who becomes the object of affection of four different men: Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) – a skilled mime, Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur) – an ambitious dramatic actor, Pierre-François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) – a “gentleman” criminal, and Comte Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou) – a calculating aristocrat.

The first part of the film is a comedy of manners with each of the men meeting and becoming entranced by Garlance, while she shows favor to none of them.  The second part of the film is several years later when Baptiste and Lemaître are now established stars of the stage and Garlance has reluctantly become Montray’s mistress.  The movie is very melodramatic, deliberately so as the film seeks to replicate the style of 19th century theatre while undermining in it in scenes that actually depict stage performances.  A good example of this is when Lemaître humiliates a group of stuffy playwrights by improvising dialogue during the premiere.

Even if you don’t consider the circumstances under which this film as made, its technical brilliance cannot be denied.  Shots like the finale where a crowd of carnival celebrants dance in the street are awe-inspiring.  But apart from the wonder of the film itself and its remarkable background story, I didn’t feel very moved or engaged by the plot.  This movie is not going to make my personal list of best films of all time.

Rating: ***