Les Enfants du Paradis

The name translates to ‘Children of Paradise’ but should be kept as French, just because I said so. I saw this film for the first time in Montreal in the early  ’70s as part of a cinema studies class at Loyola. If I remember correctly, Marc Gervais was the prof in that class, the Jesuit priest who wrote 

Ingmar Bergman: magician and prophet

 ‘, Father Marc Gervais. 

 

This film seems more pertinent now since I’m reading A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War at the present time. Les Enfants du Paradis was filmed in Nazi-occupied France in the middle ’40s. Release, supposedly, was held until after France was liberated. That brought some problems since a few of the actors turned out to be Nazi collaborators. One of the lead actors was sentenced to death, giving Pierre Renoir a chance to take over the role. Arletty, who plays the beautiful Garance, seems to have had a fling with a German officer during the war, as well. Her response, true or not, was “My heart is French but my ass is international.” Interesting times and a very interesting, and beautiful, film. 

I’m in the first quarter of viewing it again. My schedule now doesn’t allow me to watch anything for three hours, unless it’s an NFL game on Sunday. Sure, it has sub-titles and is three hours long but make sure you watch it. There are so many fine points that it’s hard to know where to begin…or where to stop. If you keep in mind the conditions under which the film was made, it takes on another dimensions, far beyond other films from that period. Many of the people in the crowd scenes were actually Resistance fighters and, if you know a bit about the situation in France at that time, you might have more respect for them, bit players by day and freedom fighters by night. 

Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) the mime stands out in my memory more than anyone else. Of course, I fell in love with Garance (Arletty) but Baptiste is the highlight of the movie, for me anyway. His miming of the minor theft in the first part of the film is superb, funny and touching as well because he has just been made a fool of by his father. It seems he isn’t really as simple as everyone thinks. Usually, I’m not impressed by an actor who uses facial expressions as much as Barrault but you’ll notice the subtlety of these expressions and see that this is part of his talent. 

The movie is long, three hours, but that gives it time to tell the story and time for the viewer to fall under its spell. Take it over a few days, if you want, but make sure you see it.

(More after this. Maybe this will be a three or four part review.) 

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