Poetic realism reaches sublime heights with Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis), the ineffably witty tale of a woman loved by four different men. Deftly entwining theater, literature, music, and design, director ... more »Marcel Carné and screenwriter Jacques Prévert resurrect the tumultuous world of 19th-century Paris, teeming with hucksters and aristocrats, thieves and courtesans, pimps and seers. The Criterion Collection is proud to present this milestone of cinema in a new high-definition film transfer made from the restored negative.« less
"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."
Best Film Ever Made
Kayla Rigney | USA | 12/12/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 02/08/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
"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!"
A Masterpiece on Multiple levels
Andrew Mendelssohn | Charlotte, NC United States | 04/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."