Thursday, December 27, 2012

Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné)

Baptiste and Garance.

The great Francois Truffaut has once stated that he would indeed give up all of his films to have directed "Children of Paradise" himself. If that's not a testament of the film's more than impressive whole, with its ability to impress and stir up healthy jealousy among other equally heralded filmmakers, then I don't know what else will be. The film, shot during the turbulent times of Nazi occupation in France (French Resistance members at the time even secretly worked in the film's production), is a miraculous achievement not just of cinema but of the entire realm of art. By merging the symphonic beauty of two of the greatest art forms the world has ever seen (theater and film), Marcel Carné, the film's director, has created an unforgettable screen masterpiece that is both aesthetically moving and emotionally evocative. 
Although it was cleverly marketed in America as France's cinematic answer to Victor Fleming's "Gone with the Wind", "Children of Paradise" is so much more than just a foreign substitute to an epic Hollywood picture. It is, by its own right, a stand-alone film that ambitiously treads the territories of both love and artistry, not to mention that it is also a visually stunning rendition of 19th century France. Populated by characters that seem to be molded after Charles Dickens' creations, "Children of Paradise", in a way, moves and unfolds like great literature (the film was even split into two distinct, very novel-like chapters). But unlike the lively pageantry of "Gone with the Wind", "Children of Paradise", even at the film's early moments, is already burdened by a running sense of melancholy, specifically when the camera first focuses its lens on the face of Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), a great pantomime who will find himself slowly falling under the spell (and pain) of love. The object of his affection is Garance (Arletty), a stunning woman who sees love merely as a simple phenomenon and who, at first sight, was immediately magnetized by Baptiste's romantic peculiarities. 
But then, it's not only Baptiste who's smitten by Garance; on one side, there's Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), a flamboyant theater actor whose acts atop the stage bleed through life itself. On the other, there's also Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), a part-time poet and full-time criminal whose great contempt of life can only be matched by his enormous pride. And finally, there's Count Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou), a rich man who baits Garance with his unequaled fortune so that she will not love any other man ever again. 
Together, these four characters engage in a slow dance of doom that finally justifies the melancholic undercurrent that runs through the film. But even though "Children of Paradise" plays like a tragedy, the film, for plenty of reasons, will surely put a smile in every cinephile's face mainly because of its visual and thematic perfection. And even though the film runs close to 3 hours, I honestly would have wanted 3 more. Hell, the film, with its highly eloquent and intuitive screenplay (by Jacques Prévert), could have been an audio book. But then again, it could have also been an enjoyable silent film, what with its pantomime fluidity and swift physical timing. 
Considered by many as one of the greatest films of all time, "Children of Paradise", again despite of it being a romantic tragedy, is a celebratory film that embraces and makes one with art even in the midst of a violent global conflict. "Children of Paradise", a flawless masterpiece of French cinema, will always stand the test of time not just as great art but also as a proof that cinema can never be crippled by war-time destruction, be forced underground by bombs and be shackled by fear. "Children of Paradise" powerfully persists.


No comments:

Post a Comment

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Ivan6655321's Schneider 1001 movies widget