Originally released in 1945 at the tail end of the
Second World War whilst Paris was still burning,
Marcel Carne's film Les Enfants du Paradis is
considered one of the greatest if not the most notable
French film of all time, in the same vein and scale as
Hollywood's Gone With The Wind from six years
It is a rare slice of art house cinema from the French
1940s and tells the story of Parisian courtesan
Garance (Arletty) and the four men who are in love
with her - an aristocrat, a thief, an actor and a mime
- based upon actual larger than life people from the
1820s and 1830s, where the film is based.
Carne originally released the film into two parts -
beating Harry Potter and Twilight by 70 years -
Boulevard du Crime and L'Homme Blanc. As Paris
was still under Nazi occupation, Carne attempted to
get past censors by splitting the film in two, and
then restore the film to its original length once the
war was over.
It is important to understand and appreciate the
lengths Carne went to in his production. The
sheer scale of the film in terms of extras,
production, costume and art direction is immense and
to consider that this film was done under enormous
levels of oppression is all the more staggering when
you see the final results.
The script written by Carne and in collaboration with
Jacques Prevert, a surrealist poet is indicative of
the input. The film feels like one long poem
visually and sonically due to the sumptuous score by
Joseph Korma. Carne's vision of Paris is a
romantic notion of fonder times and persuasions.
The fact that the film was made shows the defiant
French backbone which withstood the Nazi invasion.
Whilst the film is at times a bum-numbing 190 minutes,
it does suffer from a pacing issue after all the main
male characters are introduced; but the richness of
the production wins out in the end, rewarding those
who do stick it out.
Carne mixes all form of cinema and artistry; great
soundtrack, wonderful acting with piercing dialogue
and even mime performed by Baptiste (Jean-Louis
Barrault), especially in one of the opening scenes
when he performs a sequence to save Garance from a
wrongful accusation of theft by a buffoon. The
scene is not rushed and allowed to gestate, to the
benefit of all in view. We watch the mime, the
audience in the square watch him, all are transfixed.
Carne would continue directing into the 1980s
absorbing the bashing of La Nouvelle Vague, yet he
would never hit the same heights of Les Enfants du
Paradis - a wonderful and breathless love letter to
Paris and France, when it most needed it.
Les Enfants du Paradis was released on two-disc DVD or
Blu-ray by Second Sight Films on Monday 17th