Starring: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault
Director: Marcel Carne
Distributor: Umbrella Entertainment
What Les Enfants du Paradis doesn’t say about unrequited love is probably not worth knowing. With lines like ‘the dead matter of love rotting in the heads of the unloved’ and ‘jealousy belongs to all if a woman belongs to none’, this 1945 masterpiece will have the romantically inclined enthralled. The film captures the spirit of 19th Century using as its backdrop the magical world of the theatre and when the curtain opens we are greeted with a spectacular street scene. Acrobats, hawkers and all manner of folk are thronging along the ‘Boulevard of Crime’. Outside the Funambules Theatre, girls are doing high kicks and a droopy Pierrot named Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) is being made a mockery of.
But the white-faced clown wins the audience over when he witnesses the false arrest of the gorgeous Garance (Arletty) and performs a spontaneous mime proving her innocence. In gratitude she throws him a rose and kiss rendering him totally smitten. Garance is a performer too, appearing down the road as ‘The Naked Truth’ emersed nude in a tank of water. She also happens to be pursued by a swarm of other men while Baptiste is adored by only one, Nathalie (Maria Casares), the theatre managers’ daughter. These children of paradise are lacking that elusive essential for those so passionately inclined – their love returned by the one they love.
Nearly sixty years since this sublime film started breaking audiences hearts with its banquet of rich emotions, Les Enfants remains a hugely rewarding experience. What really makes it so special, apart from the theatricality of the settings, are the memorable performances. Jean-Louis Barrault is exquisite as Baptiste and the women in his life will sear themselves forever onto your mind as the epitomy of desire and despair. The vision of Garance, elevated from the street to the high court in her sparkly fascinator is something straight out of a dream, as is the final frantic dance down the Boulevard in full Carnival mode. Baz Lurhmann no doubt drew on this classic for his ‘red curtain trilogy’, especially with Moulin Rouge, but when the black and white curtain falls on this film you realise that it’s not necessarily colour that counts.