In my memory, this was a sweet, very gentle film and, so far, it’s working out that way in this viewing. Baptiste is incredibly naive, a virgin no doubt, and totally infatuated with Garance, just as Frederick was. I say was because Frederick’s passion has subsided by the end of the first half of the film while Baptiste’s is in full flame. At this point it seems that Garance loves Baptiste, too, but might be trying to protect him from hurt. He wishes that she could love him the way that he loves her, we can only assume that this means spiritually instead of physically, and, it seems, that Garance realizes that Baptiste will be crushed if the relationship is ever consummated. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baptiste has already shown physical interest in Garance when she was changing out of her wet clothes but Garance seems to want to protect him from both her love and the disillusionment that will come later. Garance probably feels that all love ends at some point and wishes Baptiste would continue dreaming instead of discovering the truth.
Baptiste is a 19th century nerd, that much is obvious. It seems his character has been copied many times in subsequent films, the seemingly weak man who possesses emotional depth as well as surprising strength, enough to beat up the bully with one kick, anyway. Granted, his love is too deep, too quick but I think we’ve all been there before. The only part of the movie that hasn’t rung true so far is the scene in Garance’s dressing room near the end of the first half. I’ll watch that again to see if I missed something but Baptiste’s reactions seem too forced, too extreme for the situation. Perhaps it would have been better if it had been done in mime!
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 ‘
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.)
Blow Up is where I’ll start this journey. It’s hard to know where to start on this film but I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days, percolating perhaps. Last night I had visions of linking this film with The Conversation but I decided to keep it separate, primarily because it’s a better movie. The Conversation warrants its own post but not the first one.
Details, details. Blow Up was released in 1966, eight years before The Conversation, if you’re keeping track. Directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni, it starred David Hemmings as a fashion photographer working in London at the start of the mini-skirt, Carnaby Street era…think Mary Quant and multi-colored tights. Antonioni was nominated for Best Director at the Oscars but didn’t win. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, however.
You’ll have to see it to get the gist of the plot, but you’ll have to see it a few times to get any of the same feelings that I have about this film. Why do I like it? I like the mood, primarily. The evening in the park, the suspense while the negatives are developing, and, I guess, the wind. As you’ll discover in this journey through my fave films, sound is very important. In this movie, the wind and the silence of the evenings in the park are almost like characters in the movie while Hemmings searches for clues to the mystery he’s uncovered in his photographs. Lastly, there is the sound of the ball in the tennis game the mimes are playing at the end of the film. Or is there any sound? You’ll have to watch and listen to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Of course, since this is a European film, don’t expect a clean, Hollywood ending.
Instead of doing a plot synopsis, which you can get anywhere online, I’d rather make a note of some things you can look for while you watch. I suppose the movie is all about whether there is ever anything anywhere except dots and sounds anywhere in our lives. Do things actually happen in life or do we just think they happen? What proof is there? The artist friend only sees what he has painted months after he paints it. Hemmings saw what happened in the park but didn’t see it until he developed the negatives and blew up the images. He actually tells Sarah Miles what he’s seen but then says, “I don’t know. I didn’t see”. Even though he is a photographer, he isn’t really any different from the artist, Miles’ husband or lover. The only difference being that Hemmings uses dots of silver instead of dots of paint.
The wind is incredible, really. You’ll feel the separation of environments as Hemmings walks into the park. The street noise disappears and the wind noise takes over. As he watches the couple in the park, the only other sound is some laughter and the very loud click of his camera as he photographs them. The sound of the camera adds to the suspense. Will they hear it? Will the sound carry over to the couple above the sound of the wind?
Hemmings is aware of the wind, of the sounds, just as much as we are. He hears the radio in the narrow street then blows the car horn as if to see if anyone is really there, listening or not.
I’d love to have been the scriptwriter for this movie. There is so little dialog, it would have been a dream! Much of the story is told by facial expressions, sounds and movement. Look for the crowd scene in the rock concert near the end of the film. Once the guitar part is tossed into the audience, there is a reverse volcanic implosion as the crowd is sucked into the vortex surrounding the guitar neck. That must have been planned, rehearsed and practiced many times. The flow of people is incredible.
Check out the framing, too. One shot, as Hemmings is coming into the antique shop is beautifully framed. Carlo di Palma has won awards for his cinematography and it’s easy to see why.
What’s the deal with the sign near the park. I can’t figure out the significance of it. We see it as Hemmings enters the park at night then again the next morning. I’m not sure if it says something in Italian or maybe it’s from a product that was important at that time. If you know, let me know, please.
Hemmings himself is perfectly cast as the photographer. I’ve never considered him to be a strong personality but in Blow-up I think he is perfect. You should make note of a few scenes where he is shot almost as one of the models he photographs. He’s not typically handsome, rather more ‘pretty’ than drippingly masculine, but this works in the movie because those times were full of changing attitudes towards sex. Also, note that Vanessa Redgrave is somewhat masculine. I’m not sure about this whole sexual identity theme but, to me, it’s there. It seems skinny was very ‘in’ back in the 1966, too.
Check out the last bit where you get to see Jimmy Page and the Yardbirds. Page hasn’t changed a whole lot since then, still very recognizable decades later.
Sarah Miles, to me never a great actress, has a small part in Blow-up, one that I would have left out completely. I think we see enough of the artist at the start of the film without the part where Hemmings plays voyeur later on. Perhaps she was a large enough star back then to bring in some viewers, although the film could certainly stand on its own without her.
Those are my thoughts for now. Maybe I will add to this later on. Remember that these are my opinions. If you have your own, that’s cool. Let me know what you think but, please, be polite. If you disagree vehemently, get your own site! It’s easy and simple. If I can do it, you can too.
While this blog isn’t about purely ‘classic’ films, there will be many classics mentioned. The problem with DVD rental outlets and online streaming sites, such as Netflix, is that you simply can’t find real classic movies. The only legitimate place that I’ve found, as opposed to downloading movies using torrents, is Criterion. I hesitate to recommend Criterion but they do seem to be the only player in the classic movie area.
Why do I hesitate to mention them? For two reasons. One of my first jobs in the movie biz was for a company by the same name. My experience there was certainly less than pleasant. The second reason is that Criterion was started by person that I used to work for here in Toronto. He was only part owner of the company that hired me, fresh out of university, but he was, in short, an animal. That’s his nickname, actually. Regardless of that, here’s a link to their website:
In Toronto, HMV carries their DVDs. I assume that Amazon carries them also. You can download some of their films, too. Give it a shot. Take a look at their catalog. If you have knowledge of other sources of classic cinema, let me know.