Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis)

Children of Paradise

I dreamed. I hoped. I waited. For you.

It’s been a while since I’ve used the landscape poster format for a film, but this one seemed to necessitate it. Billed in America as the French answer to Gone With the Wind, Children of Paradise lives up to its billing in the only way it knows how: production value. That’s not to say that there is nothing else to this film, but the value of the production is absolutely second to none, especially when considering how the film was made, and when and where. Children of Paradise was made right in the midst of the Nazi occupation of France, and this setting would impress a great deal into the film and the making of it. Several of the filmmakers were forced to flee or removed from the picture for being Jewish. One actor had to flee as well when the Allies liberated France for being a Nazi collaborator. The set designer and score composer had to work through intermediaries due to the Nazi stranglehold on the country and the cultural exports of it. That this film was made is an achievement; that it was made in the setting, and the time, and with the people it was made with, is nothing short of miraculous. So, what about the film itself? It was very nice, but that’s all I’d say about it.

The film is an epic tale of one woman, Garance, and the four (count ’em, four) men who each desire to be her suitor. The film jumps between the men as they have various interactions with Garance (and each other), all culminating in… well, nothing really. It’s not too big of a spoiler to say that the film’s ending essentially leaves most of the plot threads completely unresolved, but that’s what it does. The plot aside, though, this had production value out the wazoo. The film opens, for instance, on a massive boulevard populated with well over a thousand people, showing off the film’s production value with the very first shot. It’s even more amazing to consider that the entire location was a set, the largest ever constructed for a French film at the time. From there, the production was very well exercised, and never came off as opulent. The cinematography was quite good, especially thanks to the recent restoration done for the film. And the acting was also enjoyable, though I was not of the opinion that Arletty, the actress who plays Garance, had enough of a screen presence to warrant four men all falling over themselves to try and be with her, but to each their own.

The main problem I had with Children of Paradise was the fact that it seemed to know just how good it was. The beginning of the film simply opens into the setting, and starts the characters on their way, presuming that we will automatically care about the characters and what they do from square one. It was a little irksome, and as the film went on, while I found myself wondering how things would turn out and wanting the best for the central players, the idea that the film was intentionally disregarding the fleshing out of its characters and story simply because it did not deem it necessary to do so was not far from my mind. When this ended, I was left with a disconcerting taste of not having experienced the absolute masterpiece that I was led to believe that this was. It was very good, and indeed needs to be revered when the making of the film is taken into account, but the film itself seemed to only be acceptable, maybe even more than acceptable, but nothing more. I can see why this is on the list, and maybe in a few years I might even watch this one again. But not before then.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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