So finally I review the film my blog is named after, one of my favourite films of all time.
Les Enfants du Paradis takes an age old formula and reinvigorates it. The central doomed love is not simply seen from the perspective of two tragic lonely hearts, they are surrounded by others, real characters with their own hearts and loves. Perhaps it is a warning to not lose what you take for granted but maybe, more tragically it is just a portrait of two people who never quite found each other and never truly will. There is an idea in art that those who truly love one another do not belong in this world, this is made clear in Les Enfants du Paradis by the constant references to Othello, a love that was not only not fated but was destroyed by oh so human disease, jealousy.
I think it has to be appreciated that this film was made in the midst of the German occupation of France in 1943; production was often halted because cast member were political prisoners. Yet it still bears the craftsmanship and opulence of any great film on such a scale. And it is a film of scale, the three hour epic spans about ten years in the life of at least seven characters, all of whom are fully developed and artfully realised. What’s more is that the script does not allow any character to be the hero, they are all selfish, they all dwell in their unhappiness and hesitate when they ought to act. In short each one of them is tragically human, this is what lends the film its charm, you can see part of yourself in every character, they become realities as you recognise them. Era and manners are irrelevant, this is love and love does not change with the passing of societies. The script is the true cause of this timelessness, as long as there are lovers there will be the moon, there will be Paris, there will be music and there will be those who regret.
However the film does not limit itself to speaking only of love, there is a comment on the uselessness of class. The “Enfants du Paradis” the title speaks of are the simple poor people in the Gods. Throughout the film they are envied for their joy, their laughter and their freedom. It is a sad indictment of the myth that money can buy happiness. What is so tragic is that most of the characters are already too far away from the innocence of the “paradis” when we meet them, and so they can never return to the happy society they long for, they are stuck as kept women or successful but unfulfilled artists.
Jean-Louis Barrault plays the mime artist Baptiste, and thanks to his own training as a mime is spellbinding. The scenes which are pure recreations of 19th century theatre are as captivating as they would have been for the original audience thanks to Barrault’s elegant physicality and storytelling ability. Rarely has any actor been able to portray such depth of emotion in a single glance. When he does speak the effect is doubly powerful, the man’s whole body is racked with sadness as every emotional blow transfers itself onto the physicality of the performance, leaving the viewer with an impression quite unlike most others.