”Paris est si petit pour les gens gens comme nous qui s’aiment d’un aussi grand amour” ( Children of Paradise )
Children of Paradise was conceived as a film spectaculaire in the fullest sense of the term. It is a film about seeing and being seen in a world where the common distinctions between street life and theater, audience and actor, reality and illusion crumble as each crosses over and feeds upon the other, each finding itself reflected in the other.Its finding and losing the lost Arcadia and the yearn, anguish and poetic journey to recover it. Images are rearranged and juxtaposed so that time bleeds into different tenses and the real and unreal coexist. Like the Carla Bruni video on YouTube; a spicy interview laced with sex tips, her relationship with Sarkozy reflects some of the plot of Marcel Carne’s classic set in the 1820’s. Bruni was pursued by many and chose wealth and power as ”Garance” in the film. Perhaps she also wears the pant-s-o-mime in the couple as well. The mimetic arts may simply be a metaphor for the individual in his real life, protected by the whiteface. As in Carne’s film, Bruni’s life might just be a question of destiny….
”…destiny can be exhibited directly in other ways, and can affirm a pure power of time which overflows all memory, an already-past which exceeds all recollections: we are not just thinking of expressionist figures of blind men or tramps with which Carné’s work is strewn, but of the immobilizings and petrifications in Visiteurs du Soir, or the use of mime in Les Enfants du Paradis, and more generally of light, which Carné uses in the French style – luminous grey which passes through every atmospheric nuance and constitutes a great circuit of the sun and moon.[Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 46-47]
A fresco conceived on a majestic scale, Children of Paradise sweeps its audience back to the 1820s, painting the detail of a world obsessed with both theater and crime. The original screenplay by Jacques Prévert drew its inspiration from such colorful personalities of the period as Jean-Gaspard Deburau, the innovative mime; Pierre-François Lacenaire, a murderer who went to the scaffold; and Frédérick Lemaître, a celebrated actor for whom both Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo wrote plays. Jean-Louis Barrault, fascinated by the character of Deburau, Baptiste in the film, urged Prévert to develop a story around him. The result was a tightly plotted narrative dominated by the fictional figure of Garance, played by the inimitable Arletty, a woman who arouses the passion and envy of the film’s four leading men….
When the film is analyzed through a study of details and component parts, it is difficult to pinpoint where its greatness derives from. Structurally, the film is flawed. The two part format which the film adopts creates a void halfway through the film which disrupts the flow of the narrative and makes it a bit tricky to pick up the story. The second part of the film has an ending which appears a bit forced and impatient, giving the impression that a third segment was torpedoed . That none of this makes a hoot of difference at all to the film’s impact and standing is quite remarkable and reinforces the impression that where the film exceeds it exceeds exceptionally.
First and foremost , the film is visually very impressive and authentic reflecting careful historical research. The opening scenes on the Boulevard du Temple, with a magnificent reconstruction of early 19th Century Paris, filled with merchants, street entertainers and passers by, is quite stunning. Equally engrossing are the theatre scenes, with as much attention devoted to what is happening in the stalls and balconies as to what is appearing on the stage.
Secondly, the script is terrific. Possibly the writer Prévert’s greatest achievement, it shines by restraining some of his doom-laden and tragic impulses that are his trademark. The standard of writing never wavers, walking a tightrope between popular craft and underground art. The dialogue is poetic and intelli, but so full of humanity and poignancy that it delights rather than bores its audience.
… the film benefits from some exceptional acting performances. Arletty is captivating, her performance as the strong-headed Garance an astonishingly radical departure from the traditional romantic heroine of the time. Pierre Brasseur is ceaselessly entertaining in the role of the whimsical seducer Frederick, the perfect complement to Arletty’s flighty Garance. ( James Travers )
The origins of the film were based on Barrault’s fascination with the famous nineteenth-century Parisian mime Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Debarau. Walking one day with his sweet heart in the popular theater district known as the “Boulevard du Crime,” Debaurau was approached by a drunken rogue who repeatedly insulted his girlfriend. Debaurau, attempted to contain his anger, but finally could no longer tolerate the abuse. He brandished his walking stick and smashed the drunk on the head so violently that he fell dead.More remarkable than this event, however, was its aftermath. For all of Paris tried to gain entrance to the murder trial in order to hear — for the very first time — their great mime speak.
Alas, this was Paris in Vichy France and Goebbels dominated the film business, and flooded the market with trivial entertainment; leading to Prevert and Carné to agree to abandon the original anecdote. But he was intoxicated by the idea of recreating on film the acrobatics, sideshows, vaudevilles, and melodramas that were performed along the crowded Boulevard du Crime during the monarchy of Louis Philippe. While Prévert remained on the Riviera to conjure up a new story, the more impetuous Carné rushed to the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. He dug deep into its superb collection of etchings, costumes, and curios that trace the capital’s history. What he discovered surpassed his fondest expectations. He had found all the raw material from which to fashion the lavish, teeming street life that inundates the screen in the breathtaking opening sequence of Children of Paradise.
Upon his return to the coast, Carné learned that his scriptwriter, too, had been unable to keep from mulling over Barrault’s idea. Prévert had even begun to research other historical figures of the period, such as the great romantic actor Frederick Lemaître and the notorious dandy assassin Lacenaire. Determined to sustain this long-awaited pitch of excitement, Carné moved into Prévert’s farmhouse at Tourette-sur-Loup, near Nice, where they worked assiduously on the screenplay for six months.
From the outset the filmmakers sensed that the length of their film would exceed conventional standards. Bent on amplifying the plot convention of their earlier serious works (Jenny, Port of Shadows, Le Jour se lève), in which the separate lives of individuals suddenly become inextricably joined, they sought a cinematic equivalent to the narrative shape, fullness of scope, and profusion of detail found in the monumental novels of Balzac and Eugène Sue. But they also wanted to depict each of their performer-protagonists in the very act of displaying his talent.
Deleuze Cinema Project : ”Deleuze writes that destiny is exhibited in one of time’s pure powers: it can be an already-past that overflows all memory and exceeds all recollection. Baptiste never saw Frédérick and Garance together before the play. So Baptiste would have no way to recall Frédérick’s and Garance’s romance. Yet such a similar romance is the theme of the play that Baptiste leads. And also, this play foretells what is destined to come: Baptiste’s profound sorrow.
So here Baptiste’s destiny is played-out in a way that enables him to ‘recall’ something he never first had in his memory. He does so implicitly by playing a character who sleeps while Frédérick’s character romance’s Garance’s character. As an actor, he knows the full plot of the story he plays. Then seeing Frédérick and Garance together causes him to see that this part of the plot is in fact a real event in his own life-story. While playing the early scene, he knows that the played story goes this direction. He knows that is the destiny of the story. And then this destined outcome is actually an event in his own past, that he could never really recall, but now can indirectly reconstruct in his imagination by seeing that the played romance is the same as the real romance. So it is destiny expressed as an ‘already-past’ that overflows all memory and recollection.]”