Children of Paradise (1944): Marcel Carne’s Masterpiece

(Les Enfants du Paradis)

One of the most beautifully lyric movies ever made, Children of Paradise is Marcel Carne’s masterpiece of 1944; the movie was released in the U.S. two years larer.

A truly romantic movie, written by the poet Jacques Prevert (who received an Oscar nomination), the film offers a meditation on the nature and varieties of love–sacred and profane, selfless and possessive.

It is also a sumptuously made epic (running over 3 hours) about the complex relationship between art and life.

The film’s title refers to “the children of the gods,” the rowdy patrons in the cheap seats.

Set in the theatrical world of Paris during the July Monarchy of 1830–48, the narrative is takes place in the area around the Funambules theatre, on the Boulevard du Temple, also known as the “Boulevard du Crime”.

As a love story, the film defies the conventions of the romantic triangle, and instead presents a quintet, revolving around a beautiful and charismatic courtesan, Garance (Arletty), sort of a French Garbo.

Four men, vastly different in personality and approach, court her:  the delicate and soulful mime Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault), the flamboyant Shakespearean actor Fredrick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), the dangerous thief  Pierre Francois Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), and the aristocrat count Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou).

They are in love with Garance, and it’s their intrigues and ways to gain her attention that drive the story forward.  For her part, Garance is briefly involved with each one of them, but in the end, she leaves them when they attempt to force her to love on their terms.

The mime Baptiste, the most sensitive of the quartet, suffers the most in pursuit of the unattainable Garance.

Maria Casares has the unrewarding role of the theatre manager’s daughter, who marries Deburau and becomes the mother of the abominable offspring.

An elaborately stylized epic of romantic yearning, betrayal and murder, the film is so indelible that some of its luminous scenes and images are known even to those who have never seen the film.

The film was made during the Occupation, and it is said that the starving extras made away with some of the banquets before they could be photographed.

Made under difficult conditions in La Victorine studio in Nice, during the Nazi Occupation, “Children of Paradise” was shot in two parts to get around the Germans’ regulation that no French film could be longer than 90 minutes.

Calling into question authority of the family, sexual repression and deviance, rigid gender role, the dependence of women on men, the film presents alternatives to patriarchal heterosexuality in the shape of Lacenaire’s nonconformity, Frederick’s promiscuity, Baptiste’s androgyny, Garance’s independence, which contrasts with Nathalie’s monogamy.

Dubbed by some critics as France’s “Gone With the Wind,” the movie was recently voted the best French film of the century in a poll of 600 French film critics and professionals

Credits

Director: Marcel Carne

Running time: 193 minutes

Oscar Nominations: 1

Screenplay (Original): Jacques Prevert

Oscar Award: None

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Original Screenplay were Muriel and Sydney Box for “The Seventh Seal.”