Children of Paradise (1945)

Viewed February 24th

Lives and loves intersect in the vibrant, Rabelaisian world of 1840s Paris theater.

Despite the fact that Children of Paradise wears its embrace of artifice and theater on its sleeve, it manages to create an absorbing, fully-realized world of human interconnection. By the time it wraps up and Baptiste is pushing through a sea of revelers dressed in his own signature harlequin costume yelling after the object of his desire, "Garance! Garance!" the audience may feel as though they are not finishing the viewing of a temporal object (a three hour film) but leaving a spatiotemporal object (a cinematic world). In order to achieve this effect at least two things had to have happened: First, the actors had to inhabit their characters so that the audience believes they are the characters and, related, that the actors' eyes are open (not performing, not faking), able to be fallen into for a sustained amount of time; and, second, the plot had to create its own mystery and intrigue so that it beckons the audience deeper into the world of the film in order to explore its contours and experience it as a world, a place apart. If those two things happen, then the audience may experience themselves losing track of time and losing track of the spatial location in the space of the theater and, instead, find themselves totally absorbed in a different type of world created through light flashing on the two-dimensional space of the screen. More often than not in films, this effect doesn't happen. The audience is not absorbed and is instead aware of their world outside the screen and of the passage of time outside the screen. But in this film, written by Jacques Prévert and directed by Marcel Carné, it does happen. Part of that success might have come from the conditions of its production. Children of Paradise, famously produced under the Nazi occupation of France, is a film about the culture of art in a free society. Those involved had to work largely in secret in order to give depth to this world of free, thoroughly French art and thought unfolding in a time long before Nazis controlled the streets of Paris. For the sake of the French people, those involved must have felt a duty to make this world as full and absorbing as possible. They had to give the French people an escape, away from the world of Nazi occupation.