When I finally sat down to watch it, I became pretty involved in the film. It's really long, yes, but it has a great story. It's sort of an epic length romance, marketed to American audiences as "The French answer to Gone with the Wind". It sounds stupid, but it makes a certain amount of sense. There are strong female women at the center of both of these films, trying to get what they want out of life - but it doesn't always go their way. A lot of the story revolves around theater performances (Wikipedia says that "Paradis" is a French colloquial name for the balcony in theaters), which is added a really interesting dynamic. I really enjoyed this movie, despite all of my earlier reservations.
"All discussions of Marcel Carne's ''Children of Paradise'' begin with the miracle of its making," Ebert declares in the first sentence of his essay. Since I can't say I knew any of this before watching, I'll let him repeat himself here. "Named at Cannes as the greatest French film of all time, costing more than any French film before it, ''Les Enfants du Paradis'' was shot in Paris and Nice during the Nazi occupation and released in 1945. Its sets sometimes had to be moved between the two cities. Its designer and composer, Jews sought by the Nazis, worked from hiding. Carne was forced to hire pro-Nazi collaborators as extras; they did not suspect they were working next to resistance fighters. The Nazis banned all films over about 90 minutes in length, so Carne simply made two films, confident he could show them together after the war was over. The film opened in Paris right after the liberation, and ran for 54 weeks. It is said to play somewhere in Paris every day" (Great Movies II, 98).
That is a pretty amazing story. I had NO idea of any of that going into it - I sort of wish that I did! It's really incredible either way, though. For me, I sort of felt a much stronger love for the plot after reading that. The hard work that was put into it, and the joy that must have come from finally being able to show it. I never would have imagined that a film like this could have been made while it's creators were hiding from the Nazis. How could you even muster up creativity then? You have to appreciate a story like this one.
The movie is about Garance, and the four men who are in love with her - Frederick, a pretentious actor, Lacenaire, a conniving thief, Count Eduard of Monteray, and Baptiste, a talented mime. Baptiste seems to love her the most, and suffers the most for it. Garance meets Baptiste after she is accused of stealing a watch , and he, in full mime getup, silently acts out what really happened. He loves her from first sight, and she throws him a rose, her feelings for him showing as well. The film is mostly about the struggles that Garance faces in these relationships, and her constant thoughts of Baptiste.
For me, the film was so beautiful looking. It was hard to believe that it was shot under the conditions that Ebert mentioned! The sets were incredible, really. I loved the acting, as well. Garance was cast sort of perfectly, not being young and stupid but wise and strong (and still gorgeous, of course). Baptiste was also pretty attractive (for me, at least) and although it sounds weird that he was a mime, his looks were so cool that it made sense even to me (as a modern viewer) why Garance had feelings for him, even if only for a time.
In Ebert's essay, he brings up how the first set of the film (a busy street) was constructed, writing, "This was a set designed by the great art director Alexander Trauner, working secretly; the credits list his contribution as ''clandestine.'' To force the perspective and fool the eye, he used buildings that fell off rapidly in height, and miniature carriages driven by dwarves" (Great Movies II, 100). I thought this was really interesting - I had no idea it was done like that, because it looked so great! I thought the movie was really good before I read his essay, but after reading so many interesting stories about the film, I really love it.
I really liked this movie, but I'm not sure that everyone would, especially because of the length. I think my mom and grandma would really like this, and I'd watch it again with them for sure! I know other people I know would like it as well, but it is hard to convince people to watch something so long and sans 'splosions. I mean, I think the only time in the next 3 years I would want to watch this movie again is if my family wanted to see it with me. I think it's worth checking out if you have the time. It had a great story, and a great story behind it, but it's not like, ground-breaking cinema or anything. Let me know if you decide to see this!
Have any of you seen Children of Paradise? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Children of Paradise
(so, Con Air was just on TNT (I need to buy it on Blu-ray!), and now The Mummy Returns is on. BEST DOUBLE FEATURE EVER. I have really great taste in movies right guys)