Les Enfants du Paradis: Four men and one woman in Paris

Oldie Goldie - A French classic on romance set in a time where the delightful Parisian theatre thrived.

By Hui Ling Chang


The modern young woman (or man) should be well-acquainted with the arts, and boast a decent knowledge on films on hand, old and new alike. Here we will introduce to you every week suggestions of films we like.

Les Enfants du Paradis. Where do I begin?

Also known as Children of Paradise, you had to understand the situation of the time to know the accomplishment of the team behind this masterpiece. This film was created during a period where France was undergoing a phase of transition and instability. The German occupation of France meant that war and resistance was going on in the background and many people were poor, starving, and fighting. Like the characters in the story. This movie is a celebration of the common man, his values and his dreams.

 

Here are some quick not-always-fun facts about Les Enfants du Paradis the film:

  • The film came out in 1945
    • It was made during the WWII German occupation but released only after the Liberation of France
  • Directed by Marcel Carné
    • He is openly homosexual and featured his partner in many of his films
  • It lasts 189 minutes (a good 3 hours!)
  • Often dubbed the best French film in the 19th century, and part of the golden age of French cinema
  • Ratings: PG. Most of the sexy time is implied.
  • Rotten Tomatoes gives a solid 97% and IMDb rated it a mean 8.4
About

A courtesan is wooed by four men of different backgrounds: a count, a criminal, a mime and an actor. Set in the 1820s and centering on the Funambules theatre, it traces her relationships with these men and how she maintains grace and a strong sense of self-autonomy that makes her so desirable.

 

Themes

It is a poetic realist film, and one of the greatest of this cinematic style. Not sure what that means? Michael G. Smith has an easy-to-understand and comprehensive explanation of poetic realism here.

In terms of themes, French films always have a strong emphasis on passion. This film derives a purer form of love in a world of the poor and vulgar, where every man is for himself. Every lover except the mime defines love towards the lovely courtesan Garance on his own terms. The characters are candidly simple, and the kind of relationships they form reveal their personalities. Character motivation is also uncomplicated, and each is driven by his social role.

 

Wealth does not equate to moral virtue. The lower social class characters are as such: the mime is humble, the actor is generous, and the criminal has honour. Extremely positive in their outlook, they are driven by their art and accept what life throws their way.

This show celebrates the craft of the actor/performer, and the values of these people. Remember the mime moment in 500 Days of Summer? Jean Deburau popularised the iconic mime Baptiste stage name Pierrot as the lovelorn, a tragic mix of optimism and dejection in a baggy white package. Interesting enough, the four men in love with the courtesan are based off real historical figures.

 

My thumbs up thumbs down

I thought, 3 hours. This film might be too long, some parts too unnecessary, and perhaps not as exciting as critics make it out to be. Children of Paradise was made in two parts of 90 minutes in adherence to theatrical constraints from the occupation. But instead of dragging the film, I think it was efficient in use of screen time and drawing the eventful connections among the main characters. Also, you do get so caught up in Baptiste and Garance’s relationship. Life is a stage afterall.

I enjoyed it, really.

 

Random Fun Fact

In French, ‘paradis’ is another term for the gallery of a theater, where the common people sat. They are the true crowd that performers play to, and the ones whose favour actors win in order to be popular.