Les Enfants Du Paradis - Blu-ray Review

'If Scorsese's Hugo was 2011's love letter to the cinema, Carné's film is 1945's love letter to the theatre.'

Marcel Carné's majestic Les Enfants Du Paradis is a sweeping romantic epic, a luscious tale of love four ways (not what you're thinking) told with style and great affection. If Scorsese's Hugo was 2011's love letter to the cinema, Carné's film is 1945's love letter to the theatre.

As such, there is exploration here of dramatic convention and the lives of those who transform themselves for every one to see. As Simon Kinnear states in his review, 'if their Eden lies on stage, does that mean that real life is a form of exile for them?'. Frequently, the two clash as real loves are glimpsed by on-stage lovers, wrapped in the arms of others. Les Enfants is, simply, a recognition of the pure power of theatre craft, a recognition of its enduring ability to mirror our real life experiences and change them for better or worse.

Carné and regular screenwriter Jacques Prévert do not stop there. Their film explicitly considers dramatic genre, starting with Lacenaire's (Marcel Herrand) early dismissal of Tragedy, Farce, in his eyes, is the true genre of the intelligent writer. Like its somewhat obscure contemporary, Stranger Than Fiction - which dissects genre in a very different way - Carné's film sets about finding its classic dramatic identity by perfectly mixing elements of both. In the hands of a master craftsmen, each sticks equally but it is telling that Frédérick's (Pierre Brasseur) end goal is Othello, a reference which tells you where Les Enfants is ultimately heading.

Before it gets there though, Carné has woven a spectacular tale of every facet of love, with the main players representing each element, as object of desire Garance (Arletty) hops between their beds. True love Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) is the most honourable, yet his inability to act represents love's fleeting and idealised nature. Without the substance to stand up and be counted, love is just a passing notion of empty romance, as Baptiste defaults to the unfortunate Nathalie (María Casares). Nathalie herself is Baptiste with substance; a person in love who acts recognisably on their desires. Casares is magnificent in a well-written supporting role.

The other elements are charm (Frédérick), danger (Lacenaire) and money, the latter represented by Louis Salou's Comte de Montray. Each is dismissed in tick-box fashion as lacking the necessaries to hold on to Garance, herself an idealised version of that which men desire, signified by her name, eventually revealed to be false and reflective merely of a beautiful flower. Baptiste is the only one with a chance and he cannot succeed without the input of the other's characteristics. Frédérick gets him close but the actions of Montray and Lacenaire are structured solely against him, as Carné engages in an assessment of desirable characteristics.

The history of Les Enfants is also worthy of mention. Produced partially under Nazi occupation, the film is all the more of a technical marvel for it. Incredibly modern camera-work signifies cinematographer Roger Hubert's populist eye and amazingly detailed sets bring 19th century Paris to live. The dedication required in marshaling the hundreds of extras again and again must have been immense, a fact reflected in the overall quality of a Romance on equal footing to fellow classics like Casablanca. A monumental achievement, now displayed on a very impressive restoration.

Les Enfants Du Paradis is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 17th September 2012. A US Criterion edition is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday 18th September 2012.

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