Posted by: greercn | December 21, 2011

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945 but remastered in 2011)

This is one of the best movies I have ever seen. My mother told me so and she was right. I think I was foolishly swayed against it by the grainy quality of the original film. Being very visual, the wobbly and out of focus images made me miss the strength of this  film’s outstanding acting and direction and storytelling.

The remastered and newly-released version of this is delightful, from start to finish after 180 minutes that seem to zip right by.

Also, it’s not really a film with a massive appeal for the very young. You need to be older to get the meaning of the regrets and missed chances shown here. Having said that, the youngsters in the audience seemed to adore it and the very young man sitting next to me had read the script. 

“Les Enfants du Paradis” was quite an old movie when I first saw it. Film critics swooned about it and it is regularly selected as the best French movie ever by experts, even now.

Time worked against it. It was filmed in Paris in 1945 in the last days of Nazi occupation and under extreme conditions of censorship.

Those who made it filmed in the hope that the end of World War 2 would permit added dialogue. That happened.

The film recreates the lives of those working in an 1820s theatre in Paris. Many of the characters are based on real historical figures from those turbulent times and you can read all about that on Wikipedia, if you wish to.

Marcel Carne has made an absolute masterpiece and Jacques Prevert’s dialogue is brilliant and poetic, as you might expect from this extraordinary French writer.

Even the music and the subtitles in English glow with innovation. Great English words and they are hardly ever inaccurate, although not a patch on Prevert’s magic.

Arletty, who plays Garance, was painted by some of the greats in her youth and she is at the height of her powers here.

Jean-Louis Barrault and Pierre Brasseur play the two male leads, but there isn’t a bad performance from this stunning ensemble. I wish it were in colour rather than black and white, but it’s vivid enough to engage all your senses.

Maria Casares and Marcel Herrand both are profoundly affecting in their smaller roles.

“Paradis” in this context means the cheaper seats that are further back at the theatre, or the “gods” in Britain. There are some images here that make me think parts of “The Artist” are a homage to this, in that the involvement of the audience in the mimed and spoken performances is key to how you see all the different points of view.

It’s just terrific. There are screenings at the BFI, Stratford and Notting Hill Gate Picturehouse and loads of other places. See it while you can as it is a masterclass in how to make a love story while having a very rich and deep sense of time and place.


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