Monday, March 26, 2012

Children of Paradise

Could it be that the carnival scenes in Marcel Camus Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negrol959) were inspired by the final scene of Marcel Carne’s great classic Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis, l945), in which Baptiste, played by Jean-Louis Barrault is trapped in a crowd of revelers chasing the carriage in which his great love Garance (Arletty) is swept out of his life forever? As for Children of Paradise, currently playing at Film Forum, it's inspiration is theater, though the fourth wall, behind the famous painted scrim on which both acts or "époques" of the movie unfold, is constantly broken. One wonders to what extent Jacques Prevert who wrote the script was influenced by Brecht. Indeed Epoque One, “Le Boulevard du Crime,” is curiously reminiscent of Threepenny Opera with its cast of criminals. Lacenaire (Pierre Brasseur) is a fence, Garance, a stripper and prostitute, Frederick, a sometime thief and con artist. The fact that they also writers and actors creates a metaphor: the artist as con man or woman. In addition the really great moments of the movie such as the farcical scene where Frederick usurping the plot of a mediocre play by willfully dis-suspending disbelief remind us that while Children of Paradise may be set in the l9th century, it's no period piece. Its palette is thoroughly modern. Ironically the film for all its sophisticated meditations on theater and acting is, as a movie, the greatest filmed melodrama of all time (with David Lean's Brief Encounter, also l945, coming in a distant second). Baptiste is in love with what he can’t possess, Garance with no one, and the tragic Nathalie (Maria Casares) the innocent victim of imagination gone awry. As a melodrama Children of Paradise is so over the top it almost defies Joyce’s famous definition of sentimentality as “unearned emotion”; in the dramatic finale Barrault, who was one of the stars of the Comedie-Francaise, sounds like he’s speaking his lines in alexandrines.

1 comment:

  1. Two stories, both possibly legendary:

    I remember, way back when I saw this movie for the first time (of many!) being told that the Germans had bankrolled it to prove they weren't philistines, and that the people who made it got medals after the war for spending so much money away from the war.

    Also that Arletty had a German officer boyfriend. Put on trial after the war, she declared, My heart belongs to France! My pussy is international.



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