The tragic yet inspirational love story between theatre mime Babtiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) and actress Claire Reine (Arletty), a secretive woman who moonlights as the seductive Garance. She is in turn pursued and loved by three additional men, Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), a pretentious actor; Pierre-François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), a conniving thief; and Eduard (Louis Salou), Count of Monteray. Due to events beyond their control, Babtiste and Claire/Garance find themselves in the arms of others than the ones they love, a hoped for reunion hard to come by when their current significant others conspire to keep them apart.
Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis) is divided into two parts, mostly be necessity due to rules regarding running time lengths in France during the picture’s original release. It was also the most expensive French production at the time, a fact made even more incredible when you consider the majority of it was made in secret during the Nazi occupation of France in 1943. It is also widely considered the most influential French film ever made, generations of filmmakers all across looking at it for inspiration time and time again.
Directed by the great Marcel Carné (Port of Shadows), written by the esteemed Jacques Prévert (The Crime of Monsieur Lange), this movie lives up to every ounce of the hype and the acclaim. A visual marvel from the word go, a lyrical gem from the first syllable, a melodious treat that gets better and more delectable with each viewing, this is a movie you never forget and find yourself eager to return to. Carné’s vision is one of divine inspiration, freely flowing from one sequence to the next with an intoxicating ease that’s beyond perfect.
What’s most inspiriting about all of this is how Carné manages to waft such a dreamlike spell yet still anchors all of the rolling and conflicting emotions in a down to earth reality that’s immediately relatable. You feel these characters’ pain, revel in their happiness and mourn when their mutual rapture is denied. Their travails feel as immediate and as intense as any happening to just about any person in the world today, and even though the movie is clearly set in a world and era detached from our own the picture Carné paints could easily have been the war-torn year in which he made it, fifty years after the fact or the 2012 we now live in. The universality of it all, even with the haunting ethereal beauty of what is being depicted, is stunning, and it’s no wonder filmmakers have paying homage to the director’s achievement for almost seven decades.
I don’t want to ruin any of the nuances to be discovered within Children of Paradise so I’m just going to leave things here. Just know that I believe Carné’s classic is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made, and as such I think this is one Blu-ray that could – should – be bought be everyone, everywhere sight unseen.
Children of Paradise is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.37:1/1080p transfer. As stated in the included booklet: “The digital restoration of Children of Paradise presented in this edition was performed by the legendary film company Pathe in 2011. Made by Pathe during the German occupation of France in World War II, Children of Paradise was shot on whatever types of scrap stock the filmmakers could their hands on. That original nitrate camera negative was the main source of the restoration, but it was in poor condition, with significant damage from scratches, dirt and mold, as well as some tape residue from old splices, all of which had to be digitally removed. Also, in several instances, frames were missing from the original negative. These were reconstructed from multiple sources, including two 35mm nitrate fine-grain positives.
Before digitization, all elements were ultrasonically cleaned. The reels of the original camera negative and the selected parts of the fine-grain positives were then scanned at 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner at L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna, Italy. The 4K data was sent to Eclair Laboratories in Paris for reconstruction and picture restoration. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI, Image Systems, Da Vinci, and Cinnafilm restoration software. The poor state of certain shots could not be improved; characteristics of other shots, including soft focus and shadow effects in the theater scenes (typical of nineteenth-century stage lighting), were maintained in order to remain faithful to the film.”
Children of Paradise comes to Blu-ray in French LPCM Mono and includes optional English subtitles. Again, from the included booklet: “The original monaural soundtrack, restored by L.E. Diapason in Epinay-sur-Seine, France, is a patchwork of the best available sources, including a new preservation positive made from the original sound negative. Clicks and crackle were removed with a Cedar Cambridge workstation, while taking care to preserve the tone and texture of the original sound; remaining imperfections were removed manually.”
Extras on this two-disc set include:
· Audio Commentaries with film scholars Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron recorded in 1991 and 2000 – These commentary tracks are essential. I recommend listening to both of them.
· Introduction by filmmaker Terry Gilliam, recorded by Criterion in 1999 – Nice little intro by the Brazil, 12 Monkeys and Adventures of Baron Munchausen director.
· Once Upon a Time: ‘Children of Paradise’ – Narrated by Peter Leonard, this almost hour-long retrospective doc covers just about every aspect of the film’s production. Fascinating stuff that is well worthy of a look, probably more than one.
· The Birth of ‘Children of Paradise’ – A great doc from 1967 featuring a collection of in-depth interviews including ones with Marcel Carne, Jean-Louis Barrault, Claude Lelouch (A Man and a Woman), Agnes Varda (Vagabond), composer Joseph Cosma and and production designer Alexandre Trauner. Simply wonderful.
· Restoration Demonstration – Short piece looking at Pathe’s 4K restoration of the film.
· The Look of Children of Paradise – Visual essay on the film by writer Paul Ryan which includes various sketches by sketches by screenwriter Jacques Prevert, production designer Alexandre Trauner, art director Leon Barsacq and costume designer Mayo.
· Original U.S. Theatrical Trailer
The Blu-ray also comes with a 40-page Illustrated Booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew and excerpts from a 1990 interview with director Marcel Carne.
Children of Paradise is a masterpiece, one of the greatest motion pictures I have ever seen. That says it all.