Thiscritical essay will be looking into the complexities of the film the The Children of Paradise(Les Enfant de Paradis)directed by Marcel Carné and written by Jacques Prévert.This was one of many films made by these two individuals in conjunction, thoughperhaps the only one of its magnitude ever made. This film is a masterpiece notonly because of its large, scale industrially produced quality from the timebut also because of its masterful storytelling with a mix of characters withhistorical and fictional backgrounds. The director took the time to make thisfilm an almost untouchable work of art even in the adverse circumstance ofwartime occupation by an enemy force. Regardless of the struggles brought butsuch an inhospitable environment the director still manages to create a filmwith all the talent and skill of cinematography that he has been known for in pastproduction.
The film though faced with many struggles due to wartime it stillmanaged to be produced with great quality and was released in two parts uponits completion to be viewed as much in theaters by audiences.Thefilm itself is considered a masterpiece of French cinema. It has been comparedto such films as Gone with the Wind byDavid O. Selznick. This film is known as one of Frances most expensiveindustrially produced films, being made at the high cost of 58 million francsor 1.25 million dollars.
This allowed the film to be produced with manyelaborate sets, backgrounds, costumes and an enormous cast of extras. While thefilm was not necessarily produced in such a lavish manner that it requiredmassive amounts of funds or any new technologies for the time it still managedto be one of the biggest budget, industrially produced films of its time. And makingit truly unique it is one of the few artistically written and directed filmsthat at the time had the fortune to be able to be produced with a big budgetback drop.Thefilm made use of much of its money though the production of many of its grandsets.
For example, one of the most well-known sets in the movie is theBoulevard of Crime, the long set which opens and closes this movie. This setnot only involves various and artfully designed building fronts but it alsoemploys the art of perspective as the buildings themselves are made in adecreasing scale as the boulevard continues down to allow for a more continuousand streamlined shot in the movie. As well, as this film often shows theaterproduction the need for multiple theater sets and backdrops and the need forcostumes to accompany any of these meta-productions. Another area ofconsumption for the films funds was in the numerous extras the film employedthroughout its production. Tosome misfortune, the film itself was produced in the early 1940s in the midstof the German occupation of the majority of France during WWII. This placed alot of strain on the film and its production. The filming and the scripts werecarefully monitored by the occupying power. This meant that much of the filmswriting had to pass through German censors.
This left the films creators tofind a multitude of ways to express their true intents in the film, whetherthrough pantomimed drama or cleverly hidden text. As well, the because of the conflictof the era many issues continued with the film involving its characters andactors. On at least one occasion an actor was arrested, mid-production, forbeing a part of the resistance and could no longer continue filming and wouldneed to be replaced and all of their material would need to be reshot. Anothereffect of war time rule comes in the films massive need for extras.
Theoccupying force attempted to enforce the rule that the production could onlyuse people from their side but the film’s producer went through some efforts tosneak in people from the resistance for his film. Just one of the many ways inwhich the film attempted to defy the occupying force during its creation. Thesecond conventions of the film is the use of character stories from history.
Such as, Frédérick Lemaître, who was a vaudevillian actor in the 1800s and isone of the main characters in the film. As well, Pierre François Lacenaire, whois a scribe and an all-around criminal and one of our other main male roles inthe film also comes from a historical figure. The real Pierre FrançoisLacenaire was a poet, a criminal and a murderer who lived from 1803 to 1836. Asin the film the real Lacenaire for an event had a companion who assisted him inwhat would turn out to be a failed robbery, this character, Pierre Victor Avril,is also featured in the film in a similar role.
Another character taken fromreal life is that of the mime Debureau, or, Baptiste, one of our maincharacters for the love interest of the film who is also a mime. The Debureaujust like his character in the movie was a famous stage mime who became knownfor his fantastical performances.Thefilm, also, is a masterpiece simple for the story it tells.
Being a qualityfilm for its cinematic brilliance in storytelling. The film at its core spins acomplex love story between two main characters Baptiste and Garance,encircled by the affections and interests of several other characters, namely;Frédérick, Lacenaire and Nathalie, who is in love with Baptiste. We see thislove story bud shortly after the beginning of or film but even once the loversare united we are prevented from seeing them together as result of a moraldilemma.
As the characters cannot be together as their views of love seem todiffer too greatly. This in addition tothe influences and actions of other characters prevents their union throughoutthe film. In addition to the twits an turns of a complicated love story thefilm also includes elements of murder, deceit and the entertainment of theater.Wecan see the mastery of Carné’s directing in the first scene where the twolovers get a chance to express their feelings for each other as we do in manyof the other scenes of the movie. In this scene we see the two characterstaking a late night stroll together after meeting at a dancehall where Baptistehas the chance to further arouse Garance’s interests. Here we see the use ofsteady and moving camera shots as well as the use of wide and close angleshots.
Carné starts of the scene, which begins lightly as the characters arecasually talking and enjoying the night, with many moving, wide-angled shotswhich show the characters in full profile. As the conversation turns moreserious, and Baptiste confesses the depth of his feelings to Garance, we seethe shots change to steady camera shots and the focus moves to the charactersface and torso, moving ever closer as the scene reaches a climax. Then, backingout again as the scene is interrupted an comes to an end.
Thisfilm also takes time to comment on many cultural and theoretical themes. Atheme that is commented on throughout the film is destiny. The character FrédérickLemaître comments on the concept often mentioning it in love and his careeraspirations. “Love” is the overall theme of the film and is expressed in many differentforms by the various characters in the film. The film also covertly dropsasides to many cultural and literary concepts.
In the beginning of the film wesee a carnival tent offering the on the chance to view “truth” which we see tobe a naked woman. This is a concept that has been written about in literaryform for hundreds of years and conversely used in side-show stalls for a lengthof time as well. Through the movie the writer employs many different literary andcultural concepts that may or may not be obviously seen.Thefilm in some way is a commentary on theater and stage. Throughout the film wesee many aspects of theater and stage as the film not only shows us this wouldas it was viewed at the time, the 1800s, by civilians but it also takes usbehind the curtain quite often. This behind the curtain, or backstage view, wasnot something that films often did at the time, so it is a world that theaudience is quite interested in viewing. Namely, we get the chance to see twoversions of the theater world as we follow Baptiste’s stage career as a mime insilent theater and Frédérick’s career as a more traditional theater actor. Because many of the main characters in thefilm are also characters on the stage, in the, film we have the chance to seemultiple sides of the characters.
We see the characters as they act throughoutthe film, but in converse we see a different side of the character as they acton stage playing many other characters throughout the film. The audience iseven at times invited to draw similarities to the lives of the characters inthe film and the lives of the characters they play on stage. We also have thechance to see how the character interact in the workplace, backstage. Here theyalso lead lives which parallel those which they live outside of the theater onthe whole.
This provides the audience with a multitude of storylines to followfor each of the characters, giving them levels of depth.Anotheraspect of the film with which parallels can be drawn is that which the title playson. The title Les Enfant de Paradis (TheChildren of Paradise) says many things. In the movie we learn that the lowclass seating in the theater is called by the actors the seating of the gods orin other words those who truly control the theater.
If these patrons are not satisfiedwith the production from a theater the patron’s lack of attendance could causea theater to close. So, it would, obvious, be in the best interest for the theatersmanager to choose plays and actors that please this portion of the audience toensure their continued patronage. This aspect is clearly shown in the film,just as clearly as the severity of the restrictions that were also placed onthe theater in the 1800s. This being a time where dialogue was not allowed onstage by law. Something that was paralleled by the current censorship the filmitself faced in its time of production. More commonly the children of paradiseare seen as the main characters of the film itself.
These “children” wanderingthe landscape of the film tackling such emotions like love and jealousy whileeach navigating their paths in life. Allin all The Children of Paradise is aremarkable classical film that is truly multi-layered and constantly proves itsworth for its place among the greats. Not only was the film a classic thatcombined art and literature but it had the great fortune of having anindustrial, studio backing which allowed it to enjoy the benefit of a diverse castand amazing set and prop design. All of this the director had the ability to dounder the watchful eye of a hostile occupying enemy force, who regularly causedissues with the production of the film.