Children of Paradise (Criterion Blu-ray)
Director - Marcel Carne
Cast - Jean-Louis Barrault, Arletty
Country of Origin - U.K.
Discs - 2
Distributor - Criterion
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 09/26/12
The Film (5/5)
Children of Paradise is a film that begins in the chaos and confusion that occurs as youth departs, and ends in a similar chaos this time by those same characters attempting to reach back in time trying to grab whatever is left in that youth. In between we see them struggle to find their place in the world, or should I say for most of the characters here, the Boulevard.
Children of Paradise is a film broken up into 2 sections The Boulevard of Crime and The Man in White. The first part opens up on the titular Boulevard of Crime, which is less an area of criminal activity and more an avenue of theaters and of the arts. It is here we are introduced to our 4 more characters. The first is Frederick Lemaitre a man who aspires to be a great actor, and to one day play Othello on stage, the 2nd a thief named Pierre-François Lacenaire. Lacenaire currently works as a scrivener as a front for his criminal aspirations. We then have Baptiste, a young mime who is introduced to Garance, a young lady who works as a nude model, as he defends her using his wonderful pantomime technique to prove to the local police that she is not a thief. The fourth is the Count Edouard de Montray. He falls for Garance upon first sight, and immediately promises her protection and his riches. She is repulsed by him, but takes his card on his insistence.
The film follows these characters as they each try to strike up a relationship with Garance, and how she ends up pushing them all away due to the terms they each bring to the relationship. The first part of the film ends with a cliffhanger that sees Garance accused of murder, and using the Counts protection to get out of it. The film then picks up 6 years later to a changed world. Baptiste is a well known Pantomime at the Funambules theater where we had been working previously, Frederick is one of the most world renown actors, but is also a lush who overspends his income, and is frequently in debt. Lacenaire is still a thief, and also an aspiring playwright whose paths cross with Frederick during an attempted robbery and murder where Frederick turns the tables, and turns the thief into a friend. The Count lives on in his life of luxary, and continues his offers of love, money, and protection should Garance choose to stay with him as his Mistress, unfortunately for him she only has eyes for the now married with child Baptiste.
Children of Paradise is a difficult film to truly summarize. The film is less about a coherent story and more about the journey of the characters, and this universe they inhabit. As I stated earlier this is a film that begins in chaos, and ends in chaos, and yet it is one of the most satisfactory and beautifully poetic viewing experiences in film history. The characters all have selfish motivations, true, but being that we are not an altruistic species by default the characters intentions seem more grounded in reality. Baptiste and Frederic are good friends, they are co-workers, they admire each others work greatly, however they both have eyes for Garance, and will do anything to achieve her heart. That being said when Frederick loses out to Baptiste in this emotional tug-of-war, he takes that emotional loss and does what any good artist will do, he puts it into his craft. He finally has the emotional motivation to play Othello, and does so in the films closing act.
Children of Paradise is a film with a epic running time, but a wonderful pace. Carne creates a beautiful poetic chaos, and a world that is so deep the viewer can practically dwell in it. It is a film that exist for the benefit of the characters rather than the story, and for the world they live in. It has truly earned it's place as not only one of the greatest films in French Cinema history.
Using the 2011 Restoration from Pathe, Criterion has restored Children of Paradise, and given us what can only be described as a gorgeous 1:37:1 1080p transfer preserving the films original aspect ratio. This transfer is quite a sight to behold. The level of detail and clarity is excellent. The contrast is excellent, and there is a nice level of film grain. The transfer can be a bit soft at times, but that I would say is a matter of the production and not the transfer as certain sequences was shot in very soft focus. Also, there is some slight tinting and blurring issues that Criterion has admitted could not be helped.
Criterion has presented the audio in a nicely restored DTS-HD Mono track in French. This track is quite nice. The dialogue in the film comes through clean and crisp, effects, and music are loud and clear, and the background noise as seen in sequences such as the Boulevard of Crime are loud and distinct.
The film kicks off with an introduction by Brazil/Time Bandits director Terry Gilliam. The introduction is on the 2nd disc, so it's probably best watched after the film with the supplements. We then have a 52 minute documentary called Once Upon a Time the Making of Children of Paradise. We then comes to The Birth of Children of Paradise a film from 1967 that chronicles the making of the film with a visit to the studio it was shot in, and supplements it with interviews with the director and actors. We have 2 commentary tracks from Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron. These are archival and are from 1991 and 2000 respectively. We then have a new Visual Essay called the Look of Children of Paradise that goes into the design of the film. The disc is rounded off by a restoration demonstration, a trailer, and a booklet with essays.
Children of Paradise is not only one of the greatest examples of French Cinema, but may just be one of the greatest films of all time. It is a dreamy poetic film, that mains a good realistic grounding, with excellent characters. The restoration via Criterion is quite a sight to behold, and the extras are elaborate and interesting. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.