This an inhospitable environment the director still manages to

 

This
critical essay will be looking into the complexities of the film the The Children of Paradise(Les Enfant de Paradis)
directed by Marcel Carné and written by Jacques Prévert.
This was one of many films made by these two individuals in conjunction, though
perhaps the only one of its magnitude ever made. This film is a masterpiece not
only because of its large, scale industrially produced quality from the time
but also because of its masterful storytelling with a mix of characters with
historical and fictional backgrounds. The director took the time to make this
film an almost untouchable work of art even in the adverse circumstance of
wartime occupation by an enemy force. Regardless of the struggles brought but
such an inhospitable environment the director still manages to create a film
with all the talent and skill of cinematography that he has been known for in past
production. The film though faced with many struggles due to wartime it still
managed to be produced with great quality and was released in two parts upon
its completion to be viewed as much in theaters by audiences.

The
film itself is considered a masterpiece of French cinema. It has been compared
to such films as Gone with the Wind by
David O. Selznick. This film is known as one of Frances most expensive
industrially produced films, being made at the high cost of 58 million francs
or 1.25 million dollars. This allowed the film to be produced with many
elaborate sets, backgrounds, costumes and an enormous cast of extras. While the
film was not necessarily produced in such a lavish manner that it required
massive amounts of funds or any new technologies for the time it still managed
to be one of the biggest budget, industrially produced films of its time. And making
it truly unique it is one of the few artistically written and directed films
that at the time had the fortune to be able to be produced with a big budget
back drop.

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The
film made use of much of its money though the production of many of its grand
sets. For example, one of the most well-known sets in the movie is the
Boulevard of Crime, the long set which opens and closes this movie. This set
not only involves various and artfully designed building fronts but it also
employs the art of perspective as the buildings themselves are made in a
decreasing scale as the boulevard continues down to allow for a more continuous
and streamlined shot in the movie. As well, as this film often shows theater
production the need for multiple theater sets and backdrops and the need for
costumes to accompany any of these meta-productions. Another area of
consumption for the films funds was in the numerous extras the film employed
throughout its production.

To
some misfortune, the film itself was produced in the early 1940s in the midst
of the German occupation of the majority of France during WWII. This placed a
lot of strain on the film and its production. The filming and the scripts were
carefully monitored by the occupying power. This meant that much of the films
writing had to pass through German censors. This left the films creators to
find a multitude of ways to express their true intents in the film, whether
through pantomimed drama or cleverly hidden text. As well, the because of the conflict
of the era many issues continued with the film involving its characters and
actors. On at least one occasion an actor was arrested, mid-production, for
being a part of the resistance and could no longer continue filming and would
need to be replaced and all of their material would need to be reshot. Another
effect of war time rule comes in the films massive need for extras. The
occupying force attempted to enforce the rule that the production could only
use people from their side but the film’s producer went through some efforts to
sneak in people from the resistance for his film. Just one of the many ways in
which the film attempted to defy the occupying force during its creation.

The
second conventions of the film is the use of character stories from history.
Such as, Frédérick Lemaître, who was a vaudevillian actor in the 1800s and is
one of the main characters in the film. As well, Pierre François Lacenaire, who
is a scribe and an all-around criminal and one of our other main male roles in
the film also comes from a historical figure. The real Pierre François
Lacenaire was a poet, a criminal and a murderer who lived from 1803 to 1836. As
in the film the real Lacenaire for an event had a companion who assisted him in
what would turn out to be a failed robbery, this character, Pierre Victor Avril,
is also featured in the film in a similar role. Another character taken from
real life is that of the mime Debureau, or, Baptiste, one of our main
characters for the love interest of the film who is also a mime. The Debureau
just like his character in the movie was a famous stage mime who became known
for his fantastical performances.

The
film, also, is a masterpiece simple for the story it tells. Being a quality
film for its cinematic brilliance in storytelling. The film at its core spins a
complex love story between two main characters Baptiste and Garance,
encircled by the affections and interests of several other characters, namely;
Frédérick, Lacenaire and Nathalie, who is in love with Baptiste. We see this
love story bud shortly after the beginning of or film but even once the lovers
are united we are prevented from seeing them together as result of a moral
dilemma. As the characters cannot be together as their views of love seem to
differ too greatly.  This in addition to
the influences and actions of other characters prevents their union throughout
the film. In addition to the twits an turns of a complicated love story the
film also includes elements of murder, deceit and the entertainment of theater.

We
can see the mastery of Carné’s directing in the first scene where the two
lovers get a chance to express their feelings for each other as we do in many
of the other scenes of the movie. In this scene we see the two characters
taking a late night stroll together after meeting at a dancehall where Baptiste
has the chance to further arouse Garance’s interests. Here we see the use of
steady and moving camera shots as well as the use of wide and close angle
shots. Carné starts of the scene, which begins lightly as the characters are
casually talking and enjoying the night, with many moving, wide-angled shots
which show the characters in full profile. As the conversation turns more
serious, and Baptiste confesses the depth of his feelings to Garance, we see
the shots change to steady camera shots and the focus moves to the characters
face and torso, moving ever closer as the scene reaches a climax. Then, backing
out again as the scene is interrupted an comes to an end.

This
film also takes time to comment on many cultural and theoretical themes. A
theme that is commented on throughout the film is destiny. The character Frédérick
Lemaître comments on the concept often mentioning it in love and his career
aspirations. “Love” is the overall theme of the film and is expressed in many different
forms by the various characters in the film. The film also covertly drops
asides to many cultural and literary concepts. In the beginning of the film we
see a carnival tent offering the on the chance to view “truth” which we see to
be a naked woman. This is a concept that has been written about in literary
form for hundreds of years and conversely used in side-show stalls for a length
of time as well. Through the movie the writer employs many different literary and
cultural concepts that may or may not be obviously seen.

The
film in some way is a commentary on theater and stage. Throughout the film we
see many aspects of theater and stage as the film not only shows us this would
as it was viewed at the time, the 1800s, by civilians but it also takes us
behind the curtain quite often. This behind the curtain, or backstage view, was
not something that films often did at the time, so it is a world that the
audience is quite interested in viewing. Namely, we get the chance to see two
versions of the theater world as we follow Baptiste’s stage career as a mime in
silent theater and Frédérick’s career as a more traditional theater actor.

 Because many of the main characters in the
film are also characters on the stage, in the, film we have the chance to see
multiple sides of the characters. We see the characters as they act throughout
the film, but in converse we see a different side of the character as they act
on stage playing many other characters throughout the film. The audience is
even at times invited to draw similarities to the lives of the characters in
the film and the lives of the characters they play on stage. We also have the
chance to see how the character interact in the workplace, backstage. Here they
also lead lives which parallel those which they live outside of the theater on
the whole. This provides the audience with a multitude of storylines to follow
for each of the characters, giving them levels of depth.

Another
aspect of the film with which parallels can be drawn is that which the title plays
on. The title Les Enfant de Paradis (The
Children of Paradise) says many things. In the movie we learn that the low
class seating in the theater is called by the actors the seating of the gods or
in other words those who truly control the theater. If these patrons are not satisfied
with the production from a theater the patron’s lack of attendance could cause
a theater to close. So, it would, obvious, be in the best interest for the theaters
manager to choose plays and actors that please this portion of the audience to
ensure their continued patronage. This aspect is clearly shown in the film,
just as clearly as the severity of the restrictions that were also placed on
the theater in the 1800s. This being a time where dialogue was not allowed on
stage by law. Something that was paralleled by the current censorship the film
itself faced in its time of production. More commonly the children of paradise
are seen as the main characters of the film itself. These “children” wandering
the landscape of the film tackling such emotions like love and jealousy while
each navigating their paths in life.

All
in all The Children of Paradise is a
remarkable classical film that is truly multi-layered and constantly proves its
worth for its place among the greats. Not only was the film a classic that
combined art and literature but it had the great fortune of having an
industrial, studio backing which allowed it to enjoy the benefit of a diverse cast
and amazing set and prop design. All of this the director had the ability to do
under the watchful eye of a hostile occupying enemy force, who regularly caused
issues with the production of the film.