Directed by: Marcel Carné
Written by: Jacques Prévert
Starring: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Herrand, Pierre Renoir
Love portrayed in fairytales promises no matter the obstacle, it will prevail in the end. Life, however, does not play by the same rules and we must work with the circumstances presented to us. Children of Paradise provides a story about the carousel of love, how it can manifest outwardly and privately, along with the games we play to achieve our ultimate happiness.
Garance (Arletty) lives her life by performance and her alluring nature attracts men to her hoping to win over her heart. She attracts the attention of four different types of men, which includes a mime Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault), an actor Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), a thief Pierre François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), and an aristocrat Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou). Each of them displays their version of love for her and she reacts with her heart.
Running at a strong 190 minutes, Children of Paradise seeks to tell an engrossing story spanning several years and diving deeply into the relationships these characters have with each other. As much as these men have an attraction for Garance, they interact with each other in a way that could spell trouble for some and alliance with others. The amount of time covered in the feature displays a well-told story but the pacing of it left me feeling the elongated runtime of the film.
This film has been touted as one of if not the greatest French film ever, which I would personally disagree but its historical significance cannot be understated. Coming out in 1945, it has been touted the French’s response to Gone with the Wind with the entanglements involved and sheer vision and ambition in making the film. For all of the good attributes it truly has, there were moments where I struggled to get through the story. At certain points, the story slipped beneath the heights established in the superior scenes. Even with the issues I found experiencing this cinematic achievement, I still found plenty to respect.
The themes running through the film say plenty about the world these characters inhabited and how it dictated their decisionmaking. As much as we want love to dictate our decisions, life just gets in the way and we must look out for ourselves. The character of Garance fully embodies this with the way she interacts with the men fawning for her. She fights to get the right balance of security and care, which the four men provide unequally. She could be with the thief, which could offer her protection but not the affection she desires. Garance could end up with the mime, who cares deeply or her but could not protect and financially support her in the matter she would like. No one stands out as the perfect fit, so she must go with what becomes her main priority, which the film makes very clear.
This story goes completely against the belief I have of soulmates existing. Sure, there could be someone made perfectly for Garance, but she could not find it in her time and era because of other priorities being more important. Arletty portrays the alluring woman and presents such strong energy with her performance, which makes it incredibly realistic that these men would be fawning after her. She blends a level of elegance and grit that attracts each of the men to her for different reasons. Arletty exhibited such an interesting life with the way she lived and she manages to bring it with her performance. It would honestly be much more entertaining to see a biopic of her life than any role she fictitiously portrays.
A classic for a reason but not one I fully vibed with, Children of Paradise shows strong filmmaking engrossing us into a grand story about love and the decisions we make to best set ourselves up in life. The end result may not always be what we initially envisioned, but nonetheless we must make the best of the circumstances life has provided. Garance and the other characters create intrigue in their situations and manifest a bond with the audience in a way where you’ll be left hoping for a happy ending. The long runtime might scare some off, but its place in history remains deserved and it should be something every cinephile should experience.