Les Enfants du Paradis
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Time Out says
Tue Nov 8 2011In this crisp restoration of Marcel Carné’s rich, literary romance from 1945 ('France's answer to "Gone with the Wind'!"), four men tussle for the affections of one woman, the conflicted, sphinx-like Garence (Carné regular Arletty), an ice maiden in the league of Marlene Dietrich who, in nearly every shot, has her eyes masked by a beam of light. Such ethereal, delicately cinematic touches are in otherwise short supply in a film which is content to let a dazzling, witty script (by Jacques Prévert), sumptuous set design and exceptional performers lend the fiction its lifeblood.
The year is 1840, the location Paris, and a world-class mime (Jean-Louis Barrault’s Baptiste) and a Shakespearean virtuoso (Pierre Brasseur’s Lamaître) find art imitating life and vice versa as they discover that no onstage drama can contend with the pain of reality. Prévert’s busily sculpted screenplay overflows with glorious bons mots, wry references and saucy allusions, and there’s a mad genius to the way it switches from madcap flippancy to yearning sincerity. A segment concerning Lamaître in the film’s second half has him clowning on stage, tearing up a staid stage mystery with his improvisations. Then, soon after, he’s seen watching Baptiste on stage: ‘He’s marvellous,’ he says, his honesty cutting straight to the bone. But Carné’s camera records rather than amplifies the emotions: you can’t help but wonder what magic a René Clair, a Max Ophüls or a Jean Renoir would have found in this material. Its clamorous closing shot – which suggests, but doesn’t show, tragedy – is one of the greatest in all cinema.
Author: David Jenkins