Les Enfants du paradis

(1945)
   Film. Directed by Marcel Carné near the end of the German Occupation of France, Les Enfants du paradis is often considered the last film, or one of the last films, of Le Réalisme poétique or poetic realism. The film tells the story of the star-crossed lovers Garance (Arletty) and Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault). Garance is an actress, Baptiste a mime, and they are kept apart by circumstance and a variety of others, including the actor Fredéric Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), the criminal and dandy Lace-naire (Marcel Herrand), the count Edouard (Louis Salou), and a host of other characters who collectively represent a mosaic of nineteenth-century France, the period during which the film is set.
   Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, Les Enfants du paradis is a highly complex film that meditates on class, gender, individual freedom, the role of art, and most of all, love. The title of the film refers to the least expensive seats in the theater in France, evoking both the theater and narrative representation and the poor and working classes of the city. Both theater and the working class figure prominently in the film, which explores the nature of life for those at the lower end of the class system, and which consistently uses the theater to comment on the reality it depicts. The theater is also a metaphor for the film itself, which is also commenting on the nature of human existence.
   Typically of films associated with poetic realism, Les Enfants du paradis is rather dark in its assessment of the possibility for real love in the human world. Garance and Baptiste never come together, despite the fact that they truly love one another. Nonetheless, the film celebrates love as a beacon of light, like the theater, in an otherwise difficult existence. Like other films associated with poetic realism, the film focuses on the poor and the working classes and represents those parts of the city associated with such groups.
   Apart from the narrative, the film is hailed for the brilliant performances of its star-studded cast. It is often considered Arletty's best performance, and Barrault's semisilent performance is one of the legendary roles of the cinema. Moreover, the film is also remarkable in its realist and yet dreamlike camera work that captures the everyday world, and yet transcends it. The production of the film is also of some interest. It has one of the most elaborate soundstages ever constructed. This is particularly remarkable given that the film was made under the difficult economic conditions of the Occupation. Officially, Carné had to collaborate with the Vichy-era censor. In reality, he worked semi-independently, making the film at Studios de la Victorine in Nice, instead of at the German-owned Continental Films. He also utilized cast and crew members who were officially forbidden from working in the cinema, either because they were Jews or members of the Resistance. The best-known of these is Alexander Trauner, who designed the film's legendary sets. Carné is also famous for having hidden certain reels from the Germans, fearful they would be censored and hopeful that the Liberation would come, as it did, before he finished the film.
   It is almost fitting that the film heralded the Liberation, as liberation is one of its central motifs. Love and theater are both forms of liberation celebrated by the film (as is, by implication, the cinema). Arletty's Garance is, for the time, also a rather liberated woman, who refuses to be held back or held down by men. Her character is one of the most interesting female characters in cinema of the 1930s and 1940s, and some critics have seen her as not just an argument for women's liberation, but an attempt to undermine conventional gender roles altogether.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

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