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With: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Pierre Renoir, Maria Casares, Gaston Modot
Written by: Jacques Prevert
Directed by: Marcel Carne
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 190
Date: 03/09/1945
IMDB

Children of Paradise (1945)

4 Stars (out of 4)

All the World's a Stage

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I have to admit that actually sitting down to watch a three-hour-and-fifteen-minute French film was difficult to pull off. But I did, and this is one of the most rewarding films I've ever seen. (A friend loaned me the beautiful Criterion Laserdisc several months ago.)

There's no way to describe the story, which tells a classic tale of a love triangle among theater people, and do justice to the gloriously beautiful, lyrical way in which it is told. A mime, played by Jean Louis Barrault in one of the single greatest screen performances I've ever seen, falls madly in love with a sideshow beauty, played by Arletty (one name - the Madonna of her time?). In fact, three other men fall madly in love with Arletty as well; an actor who works with Barrault, a rich and lonely duke, and a literate thief. Through different turns of events, she spends a certain amount of time with each man, but realizes that she loves only the mime. When you see the mime in some of his performances, you will see why. He evokes some of Chaplin's finest moments.

The direction, by Marcel Carne, is superb and utterly timeless. Each shot is a beautiful portrait, without actually drawing attention to itself. The pacing is impeccable. There is no way to make this film shorter. Even more amazing, the film was made in France during the occupation by the Nazis. Nazi censors were watching the whole time, yet Carne and screenwriter Jacques Prevert were able to get away with many subtle commentaries. (Historically, censors have never been rocket scientists.) It has since gone on to win critics' polls as the greatest French film ever made.

Children of Paradise (a.k.a. Les Enfants du Paradis) is cinema as art in the highest form. Everyone who loves beautiful things owes it to themselves to invest the time to watch this masterpiece.

DVD Details: Criterion Collection's brilliant new 2-disc set improves upon their early laserdisc release of the film, and includes hours and hours of extras: two commentary tracks by film scholars, screenwriter Jacques Prevert's treatment, an introduction by Terry Gilliam, and a lengthy print interview with Carne.

In 2012, the Criterion Collection released an updated Blu-ray, based on the 2011 restoration. Sadly, it's not one of their best. The images look overly processed and waxy, and lacking in contrast. Admittedly, the disc does come with a disclaimer. As for extras, however, there are plenty -- even the Blu-ray edition comes wtih two discs -- and many new ones since the 2002 DVD release. A commentary track with film scholars Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron has been edited together from the 1991 laserdisc release and the 2002 DVD release. There's an introduction by Terry Gilliam, a restoration demonstration, a trailer, a 2009 documentary and a 1967 documentary. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew and excerpts from a 1990 interview with Carne.

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