A Masterpiece of French Cinema: ‘Children of Paradise’

Often considered one of the greatest masterpieces of French cinema, ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’ (‘Children of Paradise’) possesses all the qualities of a nearly perfect movie: a great love story supported by a shining, multi-layered screenplay, beautiful cinematography, and most of all, superb actors.

Set against the romantic backdrop of early 19th century Paris and the world of theater, the story revolves around the courtesan Garance (Arletty), the muse of four men whose love for her carries different meanings and needs. The main protagonist (Jean-Louis Barrault) starts as a poor and misunderstood mime artist who sees in Garance the idea of love, a representation which corresponds little with reality, despite Garance’s genuine attentions.

The flawless, enchanting script was produced mostly by poet Jacques Prévert, an important figure of the artistic world in 20th century France who collaborated with a number of other prominent personalities of his time. His writing style – referred to as ‘réalisme poétique’ (‘poetic realism’) – distinguishes itself with simple yet eloquent everyday words and music that elevates street speech and ordinary dialogues to poetic heights, giving the characters an almost mythical aura.

In French, ‘le paradis’ is the colloquial name for the highest balcony in a theater from which the poorest in the audience watched a play. Screenwriter Jacques Prévert stated that the title “refers to the actors […] and the audiences too, the good-natured, working-class audience.”

Released in 1945 by French director Marcel Carné, the film was made under very difficult conditions during the German occupation, and its story actually contains many allegories of the Resistance itself, expressed in part through the difficult relationship between theatre and life.

Here is a clip of the famous mime scene (played by Jean-Louis Barrault, with Arletty).