147 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Truly Great Films of World Cinema
CHILDREN OF PARADISE has a history almost as remarkable as the film itself. Production was just beginning when Paris fell to the Nazis; the work was subsequently filmed piecemeal over a period of several years, much of it during the height of World War II. And yet astonishingly, this elaborate portrait of 19th Century French theatre and the people who swirl through it...
Published on January 6, 2003 by Gary F. Taylor
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The most popular French film of all time
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.
This film remains the most popular and arguably the best French Film ever made. It has been called the French "Gone With the Wind" and was made during the German occupation which was an amazing feat in itself. The film was nominated for the best original screenplay Academy Award.® It was...
Published on September 14, 2004 by Ted
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147 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Truly Great Films of World Cinema,
CHILDREN OF PARADISE has a history almost as remarkable as the film itself. Production was just beginning when Paris fell to the Nazis; the work was subsequently filmed piecemeal over a period of several years, much of it during the height of World War II. And yet astonishingly, this elaborate portrait of 19th Century French theatre and the people who swirl through it shows little evidence of the obvious challenges faced by director Marcel Carne, his cast, and his production staff. CHILDREN OF PARADISE seems to have been created inside a blessed bubble of imagination, protected from outside forces by the sheer power of its own being.
The story is at once simple and extremely complex. A mime named Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) falls in love with a street woman known as Garance (Arletty)--and through a series of coincidences and his own love for her finds the inspiration to become one of the most beloved stage artists of his era. But when shyness causes him to avoid consumation of the romance, Baptiste loses Garance to her own circle of admirers--a circle that includes a vicious member of the Paris underworld (Marcel Herrand), rising young actor (Pierre Brasseur), and an egotistical and jealous aristocrat (Louis Salou.) With the passage of time, Garance recognizes that she loves Baptiste as deeply as he does her... but now they must choose between each other and the separate lives they have created for themselves.
While the film is sometimes described as dreamy in tone, it would be more appropriately described as dreamy in tone but extremely earthy in content. Instead of giving us a glamorous portait of life in theatre, it presents 19th Century theatre as it actually was: dominated by noisy audiences perfectly capable of riot, the actors usually poor and hungry and mixing freely with criminal elements, the desperate struggle to rise above the chaos to create something magical on stage. And while the film is not sexually explicit by any stretch of the imagination, by 1940s standards CHILDREN OF PARADISE was amazingly frank in its portrayal of Garance's often casual liaisons; American cinema would not achieve anything similar for another twenty years.
Everything about the film seems to swirl in a riot of people, costumes, and overlapping relationships, a sort of mad confusion of life lived in a very elemental manner. And the cast carries the director's vision to perfection. Jean-Louis Barrault is both a brilliant actor and brilliant mime, perfectly capturing the strange innocence his role requires; the famous Arletty offers a divine mixture of exhaustion, sensuality, and self-awareness that makes Garance and her fatal attraction uniquely believable. And these performances do not stand in isolation: there is not a false note in the entire cast, the roles of which cover virtually every level of society imaginable.
With its complex story, vivid performances, and stunning set pieces, the film has a longer running time than one might expect, and some may feel it is slow; I myself, however, did not read it as slow so much as precise. It takes the time to allow the characters and their various stories to develop fully in the viewer's mind. I must also note that while a knowledge of theatre history isn't required to fall under the spell of this truly fascinating film, those who do have that background will find it particularly appealing. I regret to say that I have not seen the film on DVD, and I look forward to that. But the double-tape video release, while plagued with occasional blips and streaks, is still very nice; the sound quality is good; and the subtitles are very clear and easy to read and follow. But be it on DVD, video, or better still the big screen, this is truly a film that must be seen by any one that appreciates world cinema. CHILDREN OF PARADISE is one of the few films that can be viewed repeatedly, one of the truly great masterpieces of cinema. Strongly, strongly recommended.
54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HEAVENLY,
Once again Criterion delivers one of the all time great French films, Marcel Carne's majestic "CHILDREN OF PARADISE" ("Les Enfants du Paradis") in a superbly restored, bounteously filled two-disc digital transfer . The screenplay by poet Jacques Prevert is a celebration of theater, art, music and literature. The story follows the life and loves of the serenely beautiful and worldy-wise Garance (Arletty) and the four masculine archetypes -- from sensitive to sordid -- with whom she becomes entangled. This epic, wise, witty, romantic melodrama unfolds in an 1820s Parisian society teeming with hucksters, aristocrats, pimps, prostitutes, courtesans, psychics and performers.
The actress who went by the single name Arletty was born Leoni Bathiat. On screen and off she was perceived as a free spirit who believed in "neither God nor the devil and still less in the men around her." Shortly after WWII she faced a prison sentence for having an affair with a Nazi officer. In "Children of Paradise" Arletty dominates the screen and is a palpable force of light and shadow that reverberates somewhere deep in the psyche.
A decade ago this world class film underwent a major restoration for the laser disc. For the DVD transfer, Criterion claims it digitally cleansed an additional 30,000 flaws and filtered minute snaps and pops on the sound track as well. It is unlikely that a finer print of this magnificent black and white film exists anywhere.
The film itself is divided between the two discs. Disc 1 "The Boulevard of Crime" features an insightful and clever introduction by Terry Gilliam who lauds the sheer theatricality of the enterprise as a perfect marriage of poetry and big budget filmmaking. An astute commentary is provided by film scholar Brian Stonehill. He notes the difficulty of shooting this film during the German occupation. Some of the work was even done in secret since production designer Alex Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma were Jewish.
Disc 2 concludes the film and features Prevert's original film story "The Man in White," a still gallery, production art, the original U.S. trailer from 1947 (the film was released in Europe in 1945) and a terrific commentary by Charles Affron. This wonderful, resplendent, sumptuous film seems to be a prime inspiration for the recent hit "Moulin Rouge." "Children of Paradise" is a film to own. It's one of those all-too-few timeless classics about the human condition that truly entertains and does not wear out its welcome on repeated viewings.
97 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Film Ever Made,
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Children of Paradise is, quite simply, the best film ever made. It's one of those strange, lyrical movies that must be seen at exactly the right time in life, or its true meaning is elusive. The story works on many levels -- what IS this about? Paris? Life? The Theater? Thumbing one's nose at the Nazis? Thumbing one's nose at Arletty? Yes. But mostly, it's about the timelessness of Love and all it entails. It's about pain and retreating into -- and out of -- dreams. Children of Paradise is about watching life unfold from the safety of the "paradise" -- the peanut gallery, the balcony, the cheap seats. In English, the language of this film is haunting; in French, it's sublime perfection. I saw this film for the first time in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was 19. I was also recovering from a devestating head-injury which robbed me of my ability to speak French. For the first part of Children of Paradise, I struggled with subtitles. Then something magical happened: I understood. "I dreamed. I hoped. I waited." Universal. Children of Paradise is not for everyone. It's a film of the heart -- raw and powerful. On the surface, the imagery is nothing special -- but combined with the meaning of Prévert's words, it's a force to be reckoned with. This film is nothing short of a masterpiece.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars POETRY IN MOTION,
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I just bought this movie on DVD after seeing it on vhs last year and I was really anxious to rediscover it. The thing that amaze me the most about this masterpiece is the high quality of the writing. I've seen a lot of Marcel Carné's movies with Jacques Prévert's screenplays and let me tell you, this is a dream team of directing and writing. All the characters are different so they all bring something of their own to the mix. Baptiste the mime, a romantic, gives Garance (Arletty) poetic words of love. Frédérick the great actor, also a seductor, brings words of love with a nice touch of humor. Lacenaire the criminal (my favorite character), the pessimist whose rage against the world makes for the greatest black and intelligent writing I have ever seen in a movie. The count , a snob that you couldn't help but hate, brings the words of the upper class but always with wit and sarcasm. And Garance, stuck in the middle of these casanovas, always sure of herself and always the right word (great performance by Arletty by the way). So you have it, a 3 hour screenplay with words of love, humor, sarcasm, witty black dialogue and I didn't even talk about the great story (other reviewers did a great job doing it). Let just say that the performances are all great and the story plays real life like the theater, which is genius since the movie is about the theater. In this day and age of stupid one-liner and special effects with no decent screenplay (except maybe in independant films), this is a breath of fresh air. The transfer by Criterion is quite good. They restore the image and the sound and believe me the french films of this period (1940's) are in bad shape on vhs. They give a little restoration demonstration on disc one to show the work they did and it convince me that they made a good effort to restore it. I don't know if they improve the quality since the release of the laserdisc but it looks 10 times better than on vhs that's for sure. You have 2 audio commentaries (one for each part) and if you like this sort of thing, it's quite interresting and informative. Also, stills photos and a 24 page booklet. Enjoy!
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece on Multiple levels,
Marcel Carne's Children of Paradise succeeds on so many levels that it rightfully deserves to be called one of the greatest films of all time. Carne filmed the movie piecemeal during the Nazi occupation of Paris. His film was officially supported despite the occupation, as the Nazis wanted to show that they were friendly to the arts. This created the ironic situation where Carne was taking money from the government to support a film by day and funneling help to the French resistance at night.
One actor was supposedly a nazi collaborator. He mysteriously disappeared during filming and had to be replaced. Despite all of these obstacles, Carne has managed to recreate 19th Century Paris magnificently. In this manner, the film itself is a triumph of the creative spirit.
The title refers to the poor, who could only afford seats so high in the theater that they were almost in the rafters... and yet, these were the real audiences the actors performed for. The story is a series of intersecting lives that all revolve in one way or another around the bohemian, world weary Garance (played in Mona Lisa fashion by Arletty). Beyond this, the film also revolves around 1840's theater life in Paris: the actors, the audience, and all those in between. Garance is almost a courtesan: she moves conveniently between four men who love her, seemingly unaffected by any of them... in the end, she falls in love with the mime Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault).... but Baptiste is married to another woman after missing his chance with Garance years earlier. Will they get together?
In the end, we, the viewers are as much the Children of the Gods, or Children of Paradise, that the title refers to as the theater audiences in the film. Indeed, both the opening and closing credits are played against a theater curtain. We are the viewers in the Gods, and the actors are performing for us by living their lives: loving, living, dying... feeling both pain and joy. Carne's film is over three hours long, but never lags. The stories intersect each other and cannot be adequately described in a simple review such as this... Four men love Garance, and in a way all their lives intersect in and around the theater.
The cinematography is amazing. There is a crowd scene at the end of the film that stands up to anything ever filmed: it is simply magnificent. Baptiste is lost (in many ways) in a seething moving mass of humanity. This scene alone is reason enough to see the film.
I suspect that this is a film that people either love or hate. The long length may put off many people, but this is a shame. The film isn't for those who want instant gratification. Instead, it is something to be enjoyed and savored. If all of this makes it sound too serious, be assured it isn't. Children of Paradise is a tragedy in some ways but it is also a comedy in the Shakespearian sense. This was a film made for a company like Criterion, and they do it justice in their dvd edition. The two halves of the film are presented on individual disks, so the film never suffers from compression flaws or other problems. The restoration is flawless: you would never know that this film is almost sixty years old. The audio is mono but very clean, with no hiss or static. Criterion has also included some supplements, inverviews, filmographies, trailers, etc, but the real treat is the film itself. It is timeless.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Eternal Pentagon,
Once upon a time, in a world far different from ours, everyone could afford to attend the theater and opera. In that far different world, there were two kinds of theater and opera patrons. First, there were the wealthy who often attended the theater to "see and be seen" and then there were the poor who attended to enjoy every aspect of the spectacle. People in this latter category were the "regulars" who pushed and jostled to claim their cheap upper balcony seats, and it was they, through their boisterous cheers and jeers, who made or broke a theatrical offering.
These denizens of the upper balconies are "the children of paradise" of this title. In mid nineteenth century France, the term, as used by members of the theatre company, was generally a term of affection. In the present movie, the term serves to set the scene.
CHILDREN OF PARADISE (LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS in French) has as its focal point, Garance, a femme fatale, who is loved by four men who each love her in a different way.
First there is Duberau, a mime-actor who idolizes Garance and loves her in an almost sacred manner.
Second there is Lemaitre, a stage tragedian who loves Garance in a carnal way.
Third there is Lacenaire, a failed playwright and gangster who loves Garance, as much as he is able, as a skeptical friend.
Fourth there is Count de Mournay who loves Garance in a possessive way, but agonizes over the fact that his love is not returned.
If one can call a love relationship involving three people the eternal triangle, I suppose that you could call this the eternal pentagon.
The five characters weave in and out of one another's lives, always within the the framework of the world of mid-nineteenth century Paris show business. The fact that this movie was filmed under the supervision of the Gestapo censors in World War II France, with some scenes being shot secretly, and with some of the actors being hunted by the Gestapo, makes its escapist theme all the more surprising.
One scene, early in the movie, stands out in my memory. It is the mime scene where Dubreau, played by Jean-Louis Barrault, gives the police a description of a street theft, all in mime. Because of this silent testimony, the police release Garance, who had been their primary suspect.
I enjoyed this film and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to any thoughtful movie-goer. It is not, however, going to appeal to the type of movie-goer who needs an explosion a minute to keep his attention and interest.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One more time -- the greatest of all movies,
It is impossible to overpraise this film on any dimension of quality. Visually, it is so rich that I have found in my many watchings of it that it is worth taking your eyes off the centre of the screen and just absorbing what is going on at its peripheries. Depth of image, chiarascuro, mise-en-scen, mood and texture -- all are so nuanced. The cast is almost the definitive Classical Academy of French film and drama of the last century. Only Jean Marais is missing (catch him along with the underrated Maria Casares, who plays the only muted -- and smewhat boring -- part in Les Enfants -- in Cocteau's Orphee -- same period roughyl, same visual brilliance and the same five star rating), Pierre Barasseur, whose 19th century grand passion performance from Othello is in itself superb, the haunting Jean-Louis Barrault who with his wife Madeleine Renaud was the leader in classical French theater post World War II, and of course Arletty, the enigma around whom the entire film centers.... I cannot think of any film with such a peerless cast. Them there is Jaques Prevert's script.... And Carne's direction is peerless, reflecting perhaps his own very enigmatic personality; his other films share the visual and dramatic power of Les Enfants but seem more dated; here, somehow he found the exact style to create a film deeply rooted in history but not locked into it. No one has ever directed such a cast of varied and great actors and given them so much space of expression and style while maintaining a unity.
The film is Balzacian in its breadth of story -- reminiscent of Pere Goriot perhaps? -- and covers so many moods and themes and scenes. It can be very funny -- Brasseur as the vain, worldly Frederick LeMaitre -- and so deeply sad -- Barrault as Baptiste, both of which are portrayals based on real actors of the 19th century and both of which are genuinely great in their capturing of the grand acting style of the period without this being pastiche or artificial.
It is impossible to overrate this film. If you haven't seen it, don't be put off by the idea that it's a period piece, black-and-white, French and sure to be boring. It's over sixty years old now and still profoundly beautiful, deeply moving and most of all unforgettable.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I thought I'd hate this film--but noooo!,
By A Customer
A lot of people have written excellent reviews here already--I just want to convince a few more of you.
I first came across this film starting to play on cable around 11 o'clock one night, just as my wife and I were about to go to bed. She thought it sounded like something she'd like, so she wanted to watch a bit. While I like foreign films, I really don't like period costume dramas (while my wife loves Masterpiece Theater), I certainly don't like stories about "theater people," and like most sane folk, I hate mimes. Since that's exactly what this movie was supposed to be about, I figured I'd be snoozing inside of 5 minutes.
The next thing I know, it's 2 a.m., and I've just watched an amazing film--and I've caught it several times since then. I have little ability to explain why, but this movies just envelopes you in all sorts of intrigues and interesting characters. Even in the theater scenes, the extras that make up the audience are as interesting as the actors on stage. Completely engrossing, and knowing the circumstances under which the film was made makes it just all the more fascinating.
I've already got a number of other Criterion discs, and seeing the informative extras they have here means I'll happily shell out for a film I've seen several times now.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece,
By A Customer
This film is a glittering gem from the early days of motion pictures. Shot in B&W in Paris when the City of Light was under German Occupation during WWII, it tells the story of a French mime and the wrenching love dramas he gets caught up in between his sublime performances. But the film is so much more than that- its a microcosm of mid nineteenth-century Paris complete with costume, sets and an acurate depiction of Parisian society at the time. In this respect it boarders on epic. Barrault's ultimate rejection hits like sharp spike due to the repercussions it has on himself and others around him. The high society of Paris has a coolness which stems from experience which Barrault comes cavorting into like a reckless child- and how the glass shatters. The acting is superb and the smoothness of the direction and film style is stunning. Its a long film- I think over three hours, and it is spoken in French with English subtitles. But it is a timeless and majestic works by the early French director Marcel Carne. Its amazing that he made this film inconspicuously to to avoid run-ins with the German troops who constantly encrouched upon his film studio. Today many very bad films are made in multi-million dollar studios. Children of Paradise goes to show how real genius shines through.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best movies ever made,
An astonishing film made under almost impossible circumstances. Set in Paris in the 1840s along a lower-class theatre district (the "Boulevard of Crime"), the main story is about a mime (played by Jean-Louis Barrault) who falls in love with "a woman of experience" - played brilliantly by Arletty. In an incredibly poignant and delicate scene, Arletty just about begs Barrault to make love to her, but he doesn't seize the moment and he leaves her. She finds lust in the arms of others.
Other major characters include a degenerate philosopher/writer; a Shakespearean actor; a rich count who "keeps" Arletty; and the woman who loves Barrault and eventually marries him. But the love between Barrault and Arletty remains true down through the years, though at the end, after spending one glorious night together, she leaves him for good. The acting is superb throughout, though what makes the movie a masterpiece is the writing of Jacques Prevert: the dialogue is simply brilliant. The movie was filmed during the Nazi occupation and many of the actors would leave the set to go off and fight in the resistance. Sets were constantly moved to avoid bombing raids and Nazi interference, when possible. The film is c.190 minutes long; the Nazis had a law that no film could exceed 90 minutes, so this was made as TWO independent films. The movie is not only a testament to love in all its passionate intensity (it is a French movie, after all), it is also about the survival of a country and great city, Paris - an entire civilization, actually - suffering under the bootheel of a fierce oppressor: it is about the light of love and culture and memory shining ever brightly out of the darkness of hell. An astounding achievement in all phases of the moviemaking process, from the story's message to the sets to the acting to the photography: it's a movie for all time.
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Children of Paradise (Criterion Collection) by Marcel Carne (DVD - 2012)