Plot: What’s it about?
A woman who calls herself Garance (Arletty) is a beautiful creature who works as an actress, but is also a well known and liked person in the private world. As is to expected, many men find themselves quite taken with her, but four of these man stand out as prime candidates for her affections. There is Lacenaire the cunning thief, the wealthy Count Eduard of Monteray, and Frederick the pompous actor, but perhaps the most noteworthy of Garance’s suitors is Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault). He is a theater mime and while he is not famous in the basic sense, he is known and very skilled, so he has a bright future, to be sure. After a chance encounter during a theft accusation, Baptiste and Garance have a moment or two, but then go in their own directions toward other destinations. Garance winds up in trouble thanks to Lacenaire and takes shelter with Count Eduard, while Baptiste endures a loveless marriage to Nathalie, a troupe actress. But fate pulls the two back together when Baptiste becomes a star and Garance plans to rekindle things, but little does she grasp how much will change in the process…
If ever a motion picture lived up to the standards of The Criterion Collection, Children of Paradise would be it and as such, it is a real treat to have such a lush two disc treatment. I would say without question that this film is a timeless classic, one that will remain powerful and effective forever, because of the artistic value and overall impact involved. The visuals alone are enough to rank the picture among the best in cinema, with beautiful images that burn themselves into our memories, never to be removed. As the movie deals with art and performances, the material lends itself to being visually dynamic, so the craftsmanship simply enhances it all that much more. But this not a film that focuses on style and leaves out substance, as Children of Paradise is an emotional, powerful film that stays with you long after the final scene has passed. It shows us this incredible world filled with all these interesting people and events, then narrows down to focus on a few individuals, but never lets us lose sight of the world in which they live. I simply cannot recommend this cinematic classic enough, so if you’re even the slightest bit interested, this two disc set is well worth the cost involved, so don’t miss this one.
A film like Children of Paradise takes an immense amount of vision and as such, Marcel Carne deserves endless praise for his direction here. Carne had directed a few features prior to this one, but I doubt any were made under the same circumstances, as this was shot in a most unusual set of elements. The movie was made while Nazi forces controlled the area and in an effort to prove that French cinema could still endure, the Germans funded this picture and in addition to making the flick, the filmmakers also used those funds for other purposes. As the film was shot, secret meetings were held, Nazi opposition squads were housed & fed, and all sorts of other activities, all using Nazi funds, kind of cool, I think. Carne ties together all the elements in Children of Paradise and that is impressive, as this is the kind of movie that if one string were to come loose, the entire project could have unraveled. Other films directed by Carne include The Adultress, Law Breakers, The Bible, Wasteland, and Youthful Sinners.
Video: How does it look?
Children of Paradise is presented in a full frame transfer, as intended. As they often do, Criterion has done some serious digital restoration work and it pays off in spades, as I’ve never seen the movie look this excellent. The various restoration work has removed countless nicks, specks, and other print flaws, resulting in a gorgeous, very clean image here. You’ll still see some inherent defects and some grain, but this never lessens the experience much and in truth, I was often too amazed by the positives to even notice the negative traits. The black & white image is well presented in terms of contrast also, the shadow levels remain on the mark and detail is high at all times, this film has never looked good in home presentations. I have to simply applaud Criterion’s work ethic here, as they have seriously done all film fans a tremendous favor here, kudos to Criterion on some superb all around effort on Children of Paradise.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original French soundtrack is presented here via a restored, remastered mono track that is nothing short of excellent. I heard minimal errors here, which is quite impressive and due to Criterion’s restoration process, which seems to be very effective. I noticed no hiss, pops, or distortion in the least, which is most welcome, as some prior releases have had these flaws in large amounts. The dialogue is clean and never hard to understand, while the music and sound effects come through as well as can be expected. In short, this is a basic mono track with a heck of a shine to it, thanks to Criterion’s extra efforts. This release also includes new & improved, optional English subtitles, should you want to enable those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As the film runs almost two-hundred minutes, Criterion has spread it across two discs and this was a wise choice, as compression flaws never surface. An audio commentary track is found on both discs, but each has a different speaker and in the process, we’re shown double the perspective and information. The first disc has comments from film scholar Brian Stonehill and the second disc features film scholar Charles Affron, both of whom have a lot of knowledge to draw upon in their sessions. As usual for Criterion sessions, the speakers are more technical than most commentaries, but never become dull and thanks to their immense knowledge, a ton of information is passed along in these sessions. This release also includes an introduction from Terry Gilliam, a restoration demonstration, some talent files, a selection of production stills, Jacques Prevert’s film treatment, a gallery of production designs, and the film’s U.S. theatrical trailer, which amounts to a nice array of bonus materials.