Saturday, May 13, 2017

Children of Paradise/Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

(This post is part of the "No, YOU"RE Crying Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

When it comes to romances, not many are as epic or as tragic as Children of Paradise (the literal translation of its original French title, Les Enfants du Paradis). Set in the Parisian theatres of the 1820s and 1830s, Children of Paradise centres around the courtesan Garance (played by Arletty). In the movie she is pursued by four men, although arguably it is her relationship with mime Baptiste Deburau that takes centre stage. It has been described as France's answer to Gone With the Win (1939), and the comparison is an apt one. The film's plot spans literally years. It was released in two parts, and its running time was ultimately 190 minutes.

Children of Paradise was made during the German occupation of France, so it should come as no surprise that it had difficulty getting to the screen. Worse yet, the weather was not always cooperative with regards to shooting the film. During the occupation film stock was rationed, so camera crews might find themselves without film. It was also not unusual for the set builders to experience shortages in supplies. The Nazi regime itself would also cause problems for the production. They banned producer  André Paulvé from working on the film because he had some Jewish ancestry. Ultimately production had to be suspended for three months. Fortunately French production company Pathé took over production of the film. Both set designer Alexandre Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma were Jewish, and had to work on the film in secret.

Unfortunately that would not be the end of problems for Children of Paradise, as the weather would sometimes interfere with its production. The primary set in the film, the Boulevard du Temple, was damaged in a storm and had to almost entirely be rebuilt. Naturally, this delayed shooting even longer.

Shooting would again be delayed following the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6 1944, although it seems possible that production was delayed so that the film could be finished once France was free. Regardless, Children of Paradise would not begin production again until after Paris was liberated in August 1944. Even once France was free of the Nazis, however, Children of Paradise would experience problems in production. Actor Robert Le Vigan, who had been cast as used clothes salesman Jericho, had supported the Nazis. Once France was liberated, he fled and the role was recast with Pierre Renoir, film director Jean Renoir's brother. As to Robert Le Vigan, he was eventually caught and sentenced to ten years hard labour in 1946.

Because Vichy France forbade any films longer than 90 minutes, Children of Paradise was released in two parts. In the end it would be the most expensive film made in France up to that time, costing about fifty eight million francs. Fortunately given the difficulties it faced in being made and the amount of money it cost, Children of Paradise proved to be a success. It was the third most successful film in France for 1945. The film would also prove successful elsewhere and is now considered one of the greatest films ever made.

Children of Paradise had its roots in history. In fact, set in the theatres of Paris in the 1820s and 1830s, it takes it title from the term "paradis" (literally "paradise" in English), which had once been used of the upper balcony of the theatre where seats were cheap enough that the poor could afford them. Some of the film's characters were actual historical personages. Jean-Gaspard Debureau was a famous mime who performed at the Theatre des Funambules.  Frederick Lemaitre was a popular actor of the time. Pierre-Francois Lacenaire was a well known criminal of the time and would provide the basis for the character Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

While Children of Paradise is unabashedly a romance, it is also a very sophisticated film. Nearly every class in Paris of the 1820s and 1830s is portrayed in the film, and class plays a large role in the film. Lacenaire's origins are strictly bourgeoisie, while the Count Edouard de Montray is from the nobility. Some have even seen Children of Paradise as a metaphor for the French Resistance, with Garance representing Occupied France. Indeed, many of the film's extras were agents of the Resistance, who used their work on the film as a cover.

That having been said, it seems likely that most viewers will enjoy the film primarily as an epic romance. And it is indeed a romance for the ages. Garance is pursued by three very different men (Baptiste Deburau,  Frédérick Lemaître, Pierre-François Lacenaire, and the Count Edouard de Montray), and it is her choice of one over the others that would ultimately lead to dire consequences. Children of Paradise is ultimately a tragedy, and one has to suspect that even those who do not cry at movies might shed some tears before it is over.

As mentioned earlier, Children of Paradise has been counted among the greatest films ever made. Cahiers du cinéma regularly ranked it among the greatest films ever made, despite the fact that magazine had never exactly supported the films of Marcel Carné. In 1995 a poll of 600 film professionals voted Children of Paradise the best film ever. In 2005 Time included it among their list of the All-Time100 greatest films made since 1923. Children of Paradise is then not only one of the all time great romances, but one of the greatest movies ever made.


Caftan Woman said...

I haven't crossed paths with Children of Paradise. Truthfully, I may have been hiding around the corner when it shows up due to its length. I solemnly vow after reading your article that I will at least try to get over my prejudice.

charsmoviereviews said...

I adore this film so much. I need to rewatch it again. Thank you for highlighting its history and the determination and bravery needed to make and finish this work of art. It is quite a heartbreaking film.

The Metzinger Sisters said...

I'm familiar with this film only through that famous poster, but since I'm devouring all French classics this year I will not pass it up ( even though it's 3 hours long! ). Thank you for spotlighting it.

Silver Screenings said...

It sounds like the story of the making of this film could be a fascinating movie in its own right.

As for the film itself, I would have been hesitant, given the run time, but I won't be now that I've read your review. Thanks also for sharing your research with us. I hope to see this soon!

Debbie Vega said...

I have of course heard many good things about this film over the years but have never seen it. I need to correct that! I was looking at stills from the film and they are stunning.

Thanks so much for reviewing this for the blogathon!