WOW! I wish I could end my review of the film just there because Les Enfants Du Paradis is a film that simply must be seen. Voted "The best French film ever made" by the French Film Academy, it is probably one of the finest films ever to have captivated the audience with a storyline that evokes unparalleled emotions.
Les Enfants Du Paradis is the story about Garance, an always smiling "modern" woman who becomes the object of affection of four different men. The story is about her encounters with these men and how they are enraged, indifferent, and jealous, of the other men in Garance's life. The beauty of the film lies in how the story revolves around the theatrical world wherein the pantomime and theatrical performances form an integral part of the story.
The characters of the film compliment each other in such a fashion that each one of them comes across as an equally important aspect of the storyline, no matter the amount of time they spend on the screen.
Garance/Claire (Arietty) - is a woman who lives by her own terms. She doesn't love one, but everyone equally, and believes that her happiness lies in pleasing the ones who make her happy. The object of desire, she never has any qualms about the decisions she has made in her life, at least not till much later.
Baptiste (Jean-Luis Barrault) - A mime and a rising star in the theater world, he experiences love at first sight on seeing Garance. Love is depicted in its many forms through the people Garance encounters, and Baptiste epitomizes true love, one which is without lust. It is also this notion of love he has that leads to him losing out on Garance.
Frédérick (Pierre Brasseur) - An actor and a player he comes closest to Garance in terms of free love. His chance encounters with Garance leads to a romance which when ends leaves certain hollowness in Frédérick. It is his realization of this space that Garance has always occupied in his heart that forms his character arc.
Count Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou) - An aristocrat with the means to provide Garance with all her needs, he expresses his love to her with the offer of give her protection. His love is very diplomatic, almost business like and in stark contrast with the type of love Baptiste and Frédérick show towards Garance. While Garance, due to certain circumstances, takes up on the offer, the Count is never able to make her love him.
Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) - A conniving criminal, he has the most volatile and indiscreet relationship with Garance. His love for her is that of control. He doesn't show that he needs her, but as we find out with the progression of the story, it is his love that is the most dangerous amongst all of Garance's suitors.
Jéricho (Pierre Renoir) - Jéricho is a jack of all trades. He is the common thread between all the primary characters of the story. A "ragman" dealing in stolen goods, he has a different relationship with each one of the men fighting for Garance's affection and at times comes across as their conscience that these men have left behind in their quest for love.
Marcel Carné directs the film with gusto, which looks even more beautiful in the restored version. The streets of Paris and the depiction of life at the turn of the 19th century is a window into the theatrical world of France and the change in thinking that was taking place at the time. He captures the plays and the pantomimes within the film with such panache that they become individual acts culminating into something magnificent. It is these very theatrical performances, working well within the film, the sum of all parts, which make the film a true classic.
Watching the film with subtitles, I was in complete awe with the dialogues. French has long been considered the language of love and although some of that "love" might have been lost in translation, the film is one of the most beautifully spoken films I have ever come across.
Les Enfants Du Paradis plays havoc with the emotions of the audience. There is a hint of tragedy throughout the film, be it the pantomimes wherein Baptiste expresses his loss of love or even when the happy-go-lucky Garance, just for a moment, talks about being orphaned at 15 and growing up fast in the cruel world. While the film is over-laden with tragedy, there are short bursts of humor at every corner that leaves the audience uncertain about how they should feel.
Les Enfants Du Paradis is a study of human nature at its basic, rawest form. Love, hatred, jealousy, revenge, possessiveness, need, lust, and passion are but some of the emotions that are tackled seamlessly in the film through its different characters. In the end, it becomes a battle of wits between the four men as they; once again, try to attract Garance's affection. The film ends where it really begins; in a room with Baptiste and Garance expressing their contrasting thoughts about love to each other. While the end is sure to leave the audience heartbroken, it is Frédérick, at an earlier occasion, who is able to put the gist of the story in a few words...
"Jealousy belongs to all if a woman belongs to none".
DVD INFORMATION: The restored edition of Les Enfants Du Paradis is highly recommended not only for the quality of the film, which is brilliant, but also for the special features that talk about the story behind the film and also look at the process of the restoration.
Title: Les Enfant Du Paradis - The Restored Edition
Release Date: 17th September 2012
Running Time: 182 minutes
Language: French with English Subtitles
Theater, Love, and War: Making Les Enfants Du Paradis
Once Upon a Time...Les Enfants Du Paradis
Restoration - Before and After