Monday, December 06, 2004

Balzac's Paris

Marcel Carné's Children of Paradise is a beautiful film. It is a three-hour movie that takes place around the lives of theater people in nineteenth-century Paris. The core of the film is banal: four men, from different walks of life, pursue the same woman. But the story is much more complex, each character seeking fame, wealth and acceptance in public as well. The best part of the film is Jean-Louis Barrault, the mime who uses subtle craft to express unspeakable emotions. Barrault's physical performance is impressive. Louis Salou is also notable for his authoritarian aristocrat, a delicate depiction of the occupation under which the film was made.

Besides the pantomime, the film is also interesting because of its depiction of street life. The avenues are overcome with throngs of people who file past the street performers and merchants. I am not sure if Carné filmed his scenes in Paris (or some other city) or on a set because while the architecture was appropriate for the time, the avenues were quite wide, suggesting that they were post-Hausmann. The street scene at the end, a carnival, is a wild celebration. The scene owes a lot to King Vidor's The Crowd and FW Murnau's Sunrise.


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