Sunday, May 26, 2013

177. Les Enfants du Paradis/The Children of Paradise (1945)

Running Time: 190 minutes
Directed By: Marcel Carne
Written By: Jacques Prevert
Main Cast: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Herrand, Maria Casares
Click here to view the trailer


It took me a while to get around to this one, as it's been sitting here on my desk for over a week. After watching "Henry V" and "Ivan the Terrible", I think it was the running time that intimidated me the most and possibly getting into another seemingly endless movie. However, "Children of Paradise" proved to be a very easy watch and a pretty decent one at that.

The film is split into two parts. Part One starts out by introducing us to the characters that we're to spend the following three hours with. The film takes place in Paris and begins on the day of Carnival, on the Boulevard of Crime. During the festival, many street performers and theater troupes converge on the town and that's where we meet our first characters. Frederick (Brasseur) is a wannabe actor, who wants desperately to get a job with the Funambules Theater. On his way to the theater, to talk to the manager, Frederick meets and flirts with Garance (Arletty), a beautiful actress, who blows him off. At the theater a spat breaks out between the crop of current stars and the manager has no choice but to hire Frederick as a last minute replacement and to put in a lesser member of his cast, Baptiste (Barrault), a pantomime, whom everyone disregards. The performance ends up being a huge success and two new stars are born. Meanwhile, another member of the troupe, Nathalie (Casares) is madly in love with Baptiste, but he doesn't feel the same way. Instead, Baptiste is madly in love with Garance, yet she's an uncatchable fish, a notorious tease and one who knows the true power of her beauty and how far it can get her. There's also Lacenaire (Herrand) who considers Garance a "good friend", yet covets her for himself and Count Edouard de Montray who also falls in love with Garance, while watching her perform one evening. This, the love hexagon that I've just laid out for you, is all set up in Part One and Part Two is set a few years after the events of Part One, when everyone has (sort of) gone their separate ways, yet are brought back together.

If this film had anything going against it, it was definitely the running time and the fact that Part Two doesn't do Part One justice at all. Like I said, I was hesitant to get into this one because it simply didn't look like a film that was going to end up being my cup of tea. It was a little slow to start, but once things got rolling, I was definitely on board with what was being laid down. There was a very intriguing, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking web of love, deception and heartache being weaved and it was all so poetic and romantic, that it couldn't have been set anywhere but in the heart of Paris. When I finished Part One, last night, I didn't have time to watch Part Two right away, so I saved Part Two for tonight and I was actually excited to finish it off, see what roads these characters would take and see how this all got wrapped up. It was French and very, at times, overly dramatic, so I kind of figured it'd end badly for everyone involved and I was right. However, Part Two just isn't up to snuff and just really didn't do anything for me. The characters were not where I saw them being and there were no surprises. Even Part One had a few surprises here and there (nothing shocking or huge, but a few moments of mild surprise) and Part Two, which should've been the climax, did nothing for me.

Had Part Two been able to hold up to the standards set by Part One, this could've been lurking somewhere around the '7' or even '8' range, but it didn't, so I can't get it that way. I will say that I did, for the most part, enjoy myself though. Jean-Pierre Barrault was great. Think Buster Keaton meets Pagliacci. Oh and speaking of Pagliacci, Baptiste has a line in the film where he talks about going to the doctor because he's depressed. The doctor tells him it's nothing serious and that the best medicine would be to go see Batiste at the theater that night. For any comic books fans, isn't that eerily similar to the joke found in Rorschach's journal about Pagliacci?...

"Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says 'Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.' Man bursts into tears. Says 'But, doctor...I am Pagliacci.'"

Maybe Alan Moore was a "Children of Paradise" fan. Anyway...where was I?

The rest of the cast was very fine as well and Arletty was a beauty to behold. She had this quality that really made you hang on every word she said, really examine her lips as they formed words and then sentences and seemed to always spew something romantic, poignant or just plain sexy. That's really it, I guess. A great story, a great cast and a great set-up, let down by a very mediocre conclusion that just didn't support it's first act. While many people consider this the crowning achievement for Marcel Carne, I still stand beside his 1939 offering "Daybreak", which is much shorter and packs more of a punch.

RATING: 6.5/10  I just cannot go '7', even though there were aspects of this film that I really, truly enjoyed. Maybe a rewatch someday and I can come around to liking the second act, but for now call it a mild success.


May 26, 2013  1:14am

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