PG, 3 hr. 9 min. Directed By: Marcel Carné. Release Date: Jan 1, 1945. DVD Release Date: Jan 22, 2002 .
I was a little afraid of this one. 3 hours and 10 minutes is a LONG time to get wrapped up in some sort of romantic drama, especially the French style where it’s always at least a little tragic, even if you (like me) aren’t relying on the subtitles all that much. I’ve said, at least once, probably most recently when I watched A Bout du Souffle (Breathless) that I suffer from the stereotypes involved in French cinema, and it’s one of the reasons I won’t watch it. The movies of the classic French filmmakers always felt a little stuffy to me.
But, not in Children of Paradise… although I have some problems with the translation of the title, which references the people sitting in the upper sections of the theaters (you know, those asshats making all the noise), rather than those people who might find themselves in some perfect environment. And, as the title suggests (once the translation is explained), the movie is reaching out not to the society folks on the floor, but those average Joes just looking for entertainment. There is certainly sufficient entertainment in the movie for that, and from a number of sources.
I was struck by some of the things that I saw here. Children of Paradise is close to 70 years old, and it represents a Paris almost 200 years out of date, but there were a lot of things I recognized (occasionally strangely). For instance, the aforementioned asshats in the theater are the forefathers of the idiots texting through an entire movie as well as those folks who feel the need to blurt things out at maximum volume because they themselves cannot hear. And, more strangely, our introduction to Baptiste Deburau: with the exception of the mime makeup, his flowing clothes, straight blond hair, and androgynous appearance reminded me very strongly of Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks, a movie which I saw once a million years, but never had reason to revisit, so I’m not sure why this struck me the way it did.
While this is more fun than the stereotypical French film, it does have some of the same elements. The tragic romance, or that romance which is unrequited is a common theme in French literature and film. I keep saying it, and it keeps being true: the French LOVE a touch of misery in their romance. I’m not sure they’d know what to do without it. Some of the characters are archetypes in French cinema and literature: Frederick Lemaitre is the identikit um, well, poonhound. It’s a role that I see frequently in French movies. Baptiste Deburau is not only misspelled based on French pronunciation, but he is the perfect artist, the Artiste. Garance is the lush sensual woman, although unusually, she is not in the first flower of her sexuality. The French generally like ‘em young and Arletty is a bit more… seasoned.
The run time is the single reason to dodge this. Three hours represents a bit of a commitment, but the tale is good, and the cast is better.