Saturday 28 April 2018 3.47pm
Les enfants du paradis 1945
A Marcel Carné Film
What a wonderful film. It has one of the saddest and funniest of scripts I’ve come across and has a scope as high and wide and long and deep as life itself. Strangely, it has very few children in it and it isn’t about anyone under the age of twelve. I thought it would be about children who go through some kind of hardship, who find happiness, or are destined for sadness, possibly affected by the ravages of WWII. Obviously, that was completely wrong. I only knew the title and that it was equal #73 in the 2012 Critics Poll and #224 in the Directors Poll. I haven’t any idea of the significance of the title at this point because these are my first thoughts, my initial response – my immediate reaction – to the film.
The film’s humour and consistently witty lines and comebacks, alone, make this a standout for 1945. It’s very amusing and has an interesting backdrop of people working in the world of physical theatre. It has a universal theme: people can only fall in love with the person they fall in love with, and it may not, is often not – even mostly not – reciprocated. The law of the jungle is that the person you desire may not desire you, leaving you to settle for second best. The beautiful person may also be looking for their beautiful person and find it in you, but because it is only skin deep, it has no foundation. It’s like building a house on the sand. Some people can’t allow themselves to fall in love and drift with the tide, like a piece of straw, accepting whatever they need to do to survive, satisfying their sexual hunger and not engaging their emotional and intellectual needs.
If the plot was described in basic terms it would sound like any number of a thousand film melodramas and would be enough to make one roll one’s eyes – and pass it over – because of its clichéd nature. It features villains and aristocracy and low-lives and has lovers who will never get together; lovers who are living with people that they don’t love while the person they do love is in other circumstances. The backdrop is life in the theatre and the struggle between pantomime and the development of a more drama or comedy-based theatre. The two men are actors. One is renowned as a great mime (Baptiste) and the other is a dandy (poor and out of work, with aspirations to be a great actor – Frédérick Lemaître), a womaniser who will only ever love himself. The two women are a beautiful woman (Claire Garance) who most men immediately fall in love with on first sight but who is unable to give her love to anyone; and a sweet, loving woman (Nathalie) who loves a man (the mime – Baptiste Dubureau) but the mime is so in love with the other woman (Garance) that he will never love her back. Garance is forced into a loveless marriage with a count (Édouard de Montray) to save herself from going to prison for something that she didn’t do. This takes her away from Lemaître who desires her and Baptiste who loves her. Among the mix of people living on the Boulevard du Crime are several supporting characters, including a thief and murderer (Pierre François Lacenaire) and the directeur des Funambules who runs around fining everyone who works for him who breaks his rules. The two people who are convinced that it is not within them to love, find that love eventually breaks through their cold and hardened heart. When Lemaître encounters Garance in Part 2 he realises he’s in love with her. It’s not reciprocated. When Garance encounters Baptiste at a performance of Othello, with Lemaître, she realises that she loves Baptiste, who has always been desperately in love with her. When Baptiste realises Garance loves him he leaves the bewildered, faithful Nathalie, and runs after Garance, trying to catch up with her in the thronging streets of Paris.