Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of the Gods) is voted the best French film ever made. Either one agrees or not, in this movie there is definitely one of the greatest love stories on screen.

The story centres around Garance, a beautiful courtesan, and four men who love her: Baptiste (a mime), Frédérick Lemaître (an actor),
Pierre-François Lacenaire (a criminal) and Édouard, Count de Montray (an aristocrat). In the beginning of the story, Garance perhaps likes Lacenaire, who cares more about his activity. On her way to visit Lacenaire that day, she meets the actor, who tries to flirt with her. However, it is the kind-hearted Baptiste, whose own father is ashamed of, who will be her true love. The mime helps clear her name when she is accused of stealing a watch, and later gets her a job and a room in a boarding house, next to the actor's. Baptiste is tormented seeing Garance and the actor together, and later he will lose her forever when she chooses the aristocrat after seeing no other way to escape a new accusation of burglary and murder attempt.

The movie is divided into two parts. In the 2nd part, the mime and the actor have become very successful. Baptiste has married Nathalie, the daughter of the director of Theatre Funambules, where Baptiste works. They have a son. Garance has returned to Paris and every night she goes incognito to see Baptiste's performance. Nathalie sends their son to tell Garance that Baptiste is very happy with his family now.

It's been so long since I saw a pantomime, so I am very impressed with Jean-Louis Barrault who plays Baptiste. When he sits on the barrel as Pierrot, staring without blinking, looks so hopeless that I believe his father is right: he is useless. The next minute, he displays his great talent as a mime artist, and falls in love with Garance because she says his eyes are beautiful.

It must be not easy to make this movie and at that time (during WW2). The crowd inside the both theatres, Funambules and Grand Theatre, and outside, must be real crowd. 'Paradis' means the gallery in a theatre, so the title 'Children of Paradis' refers to the audience in the cheapest seats. In British theatre, this 'Paradis' is known as 'the gods' because the cheapest areas is also the highest. These people usually react to a play honestly.

The ending is not so clear. Baptiste runs after Garance's carriage which moves off into the carnival crowd which is full of pierrots and masked people. I guess she will never returns to him, but where she will go? The aristocrat is dead.

Garance : You talk like a child. People love that way in a books, in dreams; not in real life.
Baptiste: Dreams, life... It's the same or life is not worth living. But it's not life I love. It's you.

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