Les Enfants Du Paradis - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(The Children of Paradise)

France, 1945

Director: Marcel Carné

Production: S. N. Pathé Cinema; black and white, 35mm; running time: originally 195 minutes for both parts, current version—Part I is 100 minutes, Part II is 86–88 minutes; length: current versions—Part I is 9066 feet, Part II is 7762 feet. Released 9 March 1945, Paris. Filming began August 1943, but was interrupted by WWII, resuming 9 November 1943; filmed in Joinville studios, Paris, La Victorine studios in Nice, and on an outdoor set constructed by Carné's crew in Nice.

Screenplay: Jacques Prévert; scenario structure: Marcel Carné, from an original idea by Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert; photography: Marc Fossard and Roger Hubert; editors: Henri Rust and Madeleine Bonin; sound engineer: Robert Teisseire; production designers: Léon Barsacq, Raymond Gabutti, and Alexandre Trauner; music: Joseph Kosma, Maurice Thierte and Georges Mouque; music director: Charles Munch; costume designer: Antoine Mayo.

Cast: Jean Louis Barrault ( Baptiste Debureau ); Arletty ( Garance ); Pierre Brasseur ( Frederick Lamaître ); Marcel Herrand ( Lacenaire ); Pierre Renoir ( Jericho ); Fabien Loris ( Avril ); Louis Salou ( Count de Montray ); Maria Cassares ( Nathalie ); Etienne Decroux ( Anselm Debureau ); Jeanne Marken ( Madame Hermine ); Gaston Modot ( Blind Man ); Pierre Palau ( Director ); Albert Remy ( Scarpia Barigni ); Paul Frankeur ( Inspector of Police ).

Award: Venice Film Festival, Special Mention, 1946.



Prévert, Jacques, and Marcel Carné, Les enfants du paradis , in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July-September 1967; also as Children of Paradise , New York, 1968.

Carné, Marcel, Children of Paradise , New York, 1988.


Beranger, Jean-Louis, Marcel Carné , Paris, 1945.

Sadoul, Georges, French Film , Paris, 1947.

Quéval, Jean, Marcel Carné , Paris, 1952.

Landry, Bernard, Marcel Carné: Sa vie, ses films , Paris, n.d.

Garbicz, Adam, and Jacek Klinowski, editors, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievements: Journey 1, the Cinema Through 1949 , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946: The Great Tradition , New York, 1976.

Barsacq, Leon, Caligari's Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design , New York, 1976.

Perez, Michel, Les films de Carné , Paris, 1986.

Turk, Edward B., Child of Paradise: Marcel Carné and the Golden Age of French Cinema , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989.

Forbes, Jill, Les enfants du paradis , London, 1997.


Sadoul, Georges, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 17 March 1945.

Manvell, Roger, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1946.

Phillips, James, in Hollywood Quarterly , July 1946.

New York Times , 20 February 1947.

Variety (New York), 26 February 1947.

Lambert, Gavin, "Marcel Carné," in Sequence (London), Spring, 1948.

Bodian, Alan, in Village Voice (New York), 23 November 1955.

Agee, James, in Agee on Film 1 , New York, 1958.

Hedges, William, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1959.

Stanbrook, Alan, "The Carné Bubble," in Film (London), November-December 1959.

Durgnat, Raymond, in Films and Filming (London), October 1965.

" Les enfants du paradis Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July-September 1967.

Chaumeton, E., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), Winter 1973.

Les enfants du paradis
Les enfants du paradis

Lefèvre, Raymond, in Cinéma (Paris), February 1974.

Turk, E. B., "The Birth of Children of Paradise ," in American Film (Washington D.C.), July-August 1979.

Oms, Marcel, " Les enfants du paradis : La Mutation cinématographique du mélodrame," in Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Perpignan), no. 28, 1979.

Chion, M., "Le Dernier mot du muet," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1981.

Freadman, A., "Reading the Visual," in Framework (London), nos. 30–31, 1986.

Szots, I., "Komamasszony, hol az ollo?," in Filmkultura (Budapest), no. 1, 1990.

Zagari, P., "Carné e Resnais echi dal boulevard," in Cinema Nuovo (Rome), March-April 1990.

Stonehill, Brian, "Forbidden Games," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1991.

Turan, Kenneth, " Children of Paradise Regained," in Los Angeles Times , 16 January 1992.

Sellier, Genevieve, " Les enfants du Paradis dans le cinema de l'occupation," in 1895 , no. 22, July 1997.

Vincendeau, G., "Paradise Regained," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, 1997.

* * *

Marcel Carné described his greatest work, Les enfants du paradis , as a "tribute to the theatre," and the story breathes with the very life and soul of French theatrical tradition. Three of its characters are based on historical personages famous during the reign of Louis-Phillippe (two actors, the pantomimist, Debureau and the ambitious romantic actor, Frederick Lemaître, and a debonair but ruthless criminal known as Lacenaire). Their meeting ground is Paris in the vicinity of the Théâtre des Funambules, in the Boulevard du Temple, sometimes called the Boulevard du Crime because it was the scene for many unsolved thefts and murders. A quarter of a mile of street fronts, as well as the complete theater, were constructed at great cost.

The film, made during the Nazi occupation of Paris, took over two years to complete. Production was often deliberately sabotaged, or halted because actors had disappeared and had either to be found again or their roles re-cast. Some performers active in the Resistance arranged to have their scenes shot secretly.

The Nazis, anxious to keep film production active in France, were more than willing to cooperate. German films were not patronized by the French people, and the Nazis decided that making films in the French language was essential to the Occupation. Over 350 feature films were shot in occupied France, and the most ambitious of these was Les enfants du paradis , yet Carné contrived to slow up production, sometimes deliberately hiding key reels already shot from Nazi supervisors, waiting hopefully for the Germans to be forced to evacuate Paris before the film was premiered.

On March 9, 1945, Les enfants du paradis was finally presented in Paris, the first important movie premiere after the end of the Occupation. It was received with adoration by the public. Comprised of two parts, each of which is feature-length, the film's running time was originally 195 minutes. This shortened by 45 minutes when the picture was first shown in New York. Most of the edited film was later restored, and prints of Les enfants du paradis now run 188 minutes.

The genesis for the story occurred in Cannes during the second year of the Occupation when actor Jean-Louis Barrault met over lunch with director Carné and screenwriter Jacques Prévert. When Barrault learned that they were seeking a subject for filming, he suggested a story be written about Debureau, who had been France's greatest pantomimist. (In 1950, Sacha Guitry, forced into inactivity during the immediate postwar years, would create a play on this subject in verse.)

Carné and Prévert's fame was established by three fatalistic, romantic melodramas, Quai des brumes, Hôtel du nord and Le jour se lève , generally considered to exemplify "poetic realism." Under the Occupation such films were banned, and they turned to a radically different style of period spectacle, first seen in the medieval fable Les visiteurs du soir . The scope of the movie envisioned by Carné, Prévert and Barrault was very wide. Its message—that the drama could only flourish where men are free—required a subtlety of interpretation that eluded the Nazi mind; otherwise they would never have authorized production of the film. The script is one of Prévert's finest, full of wit and aphorism; farce and tragedy are effortlessly combined. Carné's handling of both his all-star cast and the complex crowd scenes is masterly.

In French, "paradis" is the colloquial name for the gallery or second balcony in a theater, where common people sat and viewed a play, responding to it honestly and boisterously. The actors played to these gallery gods, hoping to win their favor, the actor himself thus being elevated to an Olympian status.

The French theatre at the time was as Dumas knew it, and as Balzac subsequently wrote about it. It was a theatre for the people, catering to their romantic and extravagant tastes. Mountebanks, clowns, and courtesans quickened its rich blood. Debureau, whose father was an actor, became the idol of his time, touching the emotions of his public with a few well-timed gestures. He rose to fame at the same time as Lemaître captured the fancy of the nation. Their fates mingled with that of the daring criminal, Lacenaire. All three loved and were loved, however briefly, by Garance, the beautiful adventuress idolized as an actress. In the film she is presented as a woman who rejects those men who try to possess her. However, only when she learns that Debureau is the father of a young son does she abandon her hold on him, relinquishing him to his wife and child while she pursues a new chapter in her life, praying that it will lead her to ultimate freedom. Garance becomes a forerunner of this century's emancipated woman, a sophisticate knowing everything about living, and resisting all attempts to control her.

Had the Germans even guessed that in authorizing production of Les enfants du paradis , they were condoning the exploits of a woman like Garance, they would have withdrawn their approval of the film immediately. She symbolized the activating spirit of the Free French, a spirit of revolt and independence, a spirit that can never be broken or subjugated, as Hitler's generals soon learned.

Beautifully cast, with the triumphant Arletty as Garance, the picture also boasts the presence of Jean-Louis Barrault as Debureau. He was the finest pantomimist of his generation in the French theatre, and he simply transferred his special gifts to the role he was playing. Handsome Pierre Brasseur is an immaculate Lemaître, and Marcel Herrand offered a stunning portrayal of the criminal. Lovely Maria Casarès is very appealing as the wife of Debureau.

All in all, Les enfants du paradis , in spite of its large canvas, remains a very intimate study of the French theatre, inviting its audience not only to know and appreciate its people, but also acquainting them with the Free French spirit.

—DeWitt Bodeen

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