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The Criterion Collection presents
"Jealousy belongs to all if a woman belongs to no one."
DVD Review"Act! Act! You have the wrong place. We are not allowed to act here. We walk on our hands! And you know why? They bully us. If we put on plays, they'd have to close their great, noble theaters! Their public is bored to death by museum pieces, dusty tragedies and declaiming mummies who never move! But the Funambules is full of life, movement! Extravaganzas! Appearances, disappearances, like in real life! And then—boom—the kick in the pants!" - director of the FunambulesLes Enfants du paradis opens its first of many curtains on a tightrope walker—a funambulist—entertaining a small group of onlookers, a tidepool in the vast currents of the Boulevard of Crime. And while the camera quickly sweeps us away with the crowd to take in more visual feats and amusements, it is easy to forget this initial image, even in the name of the theater where we will spend so much time: "The Funambules." Life is an act of balance, skill and wits; love is the risk.Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert's backstage tale is a richly layered epic of comedy, tragedy, destiny, betrayal and indomitable, inconsolable love. They embroider the lives of colorful 19th century figures with fiction, for our purpose, only to rend them apart and futilely mend them again. Frédérick Lemaître, the actor who re-introduced Shakespeare to the French Theater, here becomes our comic relief. Baptiste Deburau, the great pantomime who would modernize the traditional art of the voiceless opera, should be our clown, but instead arouses our pathos. Pierre-François Lacenaire, the poet-thief who would go to the Parisian guillotine for murder, is the film's philosopher, our moralist, so to speak. And while Garance—the woman they love—is not based on an actual person, the filmmakers provide her with enough relevant detail to make hers a historically plausible life. As their paths intersect through a series of events experienced on and off the stage, each of these characters is changed, and yet remains the same. There is no line, no curtain that divides art from reality; the players move freely between truth and fiction, from which we might conclude that there is no barrier between what we experience on the screen and what we experience in our own lives. "You're extraordinary, Édouard. Not only are you rich, but you want to be loved as if you were poor. What about the poor, then? Be reasonable... don't deprive them of everything." - GaranceLove is the theme, but this is not as much the romance of Romeo and Juliet as the vainglorious passion of Othello: the film itself makes this clear. We see love as it really is, defying definition, unique to everyone; who loves whom, and why, is better understood by the audience than the lovers themselves. Lost in translation is a vital clue when Baptiste pronounces his love to Garance: he uses the formal, "Je vous aime." In this most familiar of declarations, he reveals his idealized love. Both ardent and shy, he foolishly demands the impossible: that Garance love him as he loves her. Beyond his temperament to comprehend, Garance believes "love is simple." Nathalie states beyond dispute that she has "all the love in the world" that exists for Baptiste. Lacenaire as much as spits the word, and Frédérick showers Garance with charming but vacuous affection. The Count de Montray (part two's "Man in White") believes beauty is somehow beyond the reach of love, yet expects Garance to love him. Even jealousy, as a word or an emotion, is rendered insufficient and must be an action to exist. And like good theater, the audience is left to their own devices when the final curtain falls, reminding us that it is all theatrics, and, as Frédérick's favorite bard said, "Life's a stage.""He is gentleness itself. How can he look so cruel?" - GaranceArletty, a grande dame of the French Theater, was forty-five when she was cast in the role of Ideal Beauty. She paints Garance ("Comme le fleur") with a Mona Lisa smile that barely parts when she speaks, and she seems to float through the film, like "Truth: from the neck up." While not particularly expressive, she is believably who she portrays: an unfettered woman with nothing to lose. On the other hand, Jean-Louis Barrault, among the last masters of the pantomime, is pure physical expression and his Pierrot costume is truly an extension of his own body. Supposedly, Barrault is the one who brought this concept to the filmmakers, and sadly, it may be that this film remains the final testimonial to this ancient artform.Garance: Who says I don't love you, Baptiste? Nathalie: I say so.In her film début, María Casares carries the unsympathetic burden as the melodramatic crusader of destiny, Nathalie. Once you are familiar with her performance here, you will marvel at her range when you see her later redeem herself as Death (The Princess), in Jean Cocteau's Orphée. The most versatile member of this vast troupe is unquestionably Pierre Brasseur as the endearing coureur de jupons, Frédérick, perhaps the only character truly transformed in the end. Brasseur balances the underplayed and overwrought emotions of those around him with his lighthearted manner—at least, that is, until he has his own sobering epiphany."I had a dream about you last night. You were on the street, shouting: 'Ragman! Clothes for sale?' But in the dream I heard something else: 'Rat-on-the-man! Friends for sale?'" -LacenaireIt is well known that Children of Paradise was dangerously completed during the Nazi Occupation. One of the most interesting artifacts is the role of Jéricho the ragman (easily the cinematic model for Watto, the parts dealer in Lucas' The Phantom Menace), who collaborates with Nathalie time and again as the catalyst of tragedy. Pierre Renoir (son of the painter and brother of the director), took over this part after actor Robert LeVigan was arrested, ironically, as a Nazi collaborator. Look for the surviving vestige of the traitor's work, about halfway through Part Two, when Jéricho snitches to Natalie, once again.Any further attempt to summarize the plot would be an injustice as the action takes place in many layers that peel back with repeated viewing. The genius of Les Enfants du paradis is in the recurring themes, the poetic yet economical dialogue by Prévert and the unique mise-en-scénes of Carné. While the importance of this film is well documented, it doesn't take a scholarly discourse to appreciate it: It is easily the most accessible of the great cinematic triumphs in the first century of the medium. It will seduce you again and again, once you realize the potency—and prophecy—of its dialectic. But for all its complexities, this film, like love, is simple.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: While conceived as one continuous story, political and financial constraints of the era (the Nazi occupation and the collaborative Vichy government) dictated that, due to its length, Children of Paradise would be edited as two related, but separate films, with the guarantee that they would be shown contiguously. As a result, the opening credits still appear at the beginning of both Part One and Part Two, and the latter includes a textual synopsis of the first. Luckily, the epic film has never been divided, but this artifact remains.Restored in 1991 by Pathé for the laserdisc release, Criterion has now completely resurrected this 50-year-old film. Having most recently viewed the previous VHS incarnation, I enthusiastically applaud their exhaustive efforts: as one of few films I have seen more than twice (an even 20 now, to date), I can empirically state that it has never looked better. I am comfortable with their claim that they have restored and repaired everything possible, and accept the handful of jumps caused by missing frames (the most obvious of which occurs at 54m:22s on the first disc, during the dance at the public house). The black & white image is quietly gorgeous, and the grayscale is so rich it reads as distinctively as color. The blacks are true without obscuring shadow detail, and Lacenaire's impeccably bleached ruffles are recognizably the most brilliant whites in his scenes. In his interview excerpts, Carné expresses a kind of disappointment that the equipment and media necessary to capture the period's natural lighting was not available at the time of his production. However, this new transfer finally discloses the director's extraordinary expertise in the use of lighting to effectively evoke the illumination of lamplight in a wide variety of circumstances. Even the direct sunlight from Lacenaire's shop window on Garance is phenomenally believable.If you have seen this film before, you will not need their restoration demo to appreciate the recovery process undertaken. Criterion has achieved the impossible and snatched this universal treasure from the brink of oblivion.
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: As with the image, the audio has spent decades deteriorating. While focused on the English subtitles, most audiences around the world might easily have dismissed the soundtrack altogether as it distorted into muffled vagueness. While my French is weak, my ability to understand it has always been a bit better, but as time went by I strained more and heard less and less. Those days are over. The aural clarity of the original mono is superb, from the individual instruments in the Funambules' orchestra to the whispered words of lovers to the crack on the head the elder Deburau suffers from "a Barrigni." Whistles and jeers that once clipped or dropped out are back, and the hiss that made us shout, "Shut up! We can't hear the pantomime!" has vanished. Whether you follow the dialogue or the subtitles, the merciless distractions are vanquished forever. Gratefully, we still can't hear Baptiste's heart break.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 45 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film scholars Brian Stonehill (Part One: Boulevard of Crime) and Charles Affron (Part Two: The Man in White)
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsAlthough the young buck Picasso spent his career dismissing his elder rival, when the latter died, Picasso is to have said, "In the end, there is only Matisse." In the accompanying booklet, Carné quotes Truffaut as having made a similarly monumental retraction, "I've made 23 movies and I'd give them all up to have done Children of Paradise."Popularly referred to as the "Gone With the Wind of French cinema," this is not only shamelessly inappropriate but flirts dangerously close to implying everything must be compared to Hollywood's output. Chosen by Cannes as France's greatest film, Children of Paradise is virtually non pareil in its own right and has inspired whatever reverence—and irreverence—it deserves, based on its own merits. You won't need to rely on historians and pundits to recognize the timeless elegance of this intimate epic. As for the transfer, Criterion has accomplished a miracle: one of cinema's most deserving children has been returned to paradise.
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