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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Friday, November 9, 2012
7:00 p.m. Children of Paradise
Marcel Carné (France, 1945)

(Les enfants du paradis). Set in the 1840s, when pantomime and melodrama were at their height on Paris’s famed theater street Boulevard du Crime, this is a delicate yet elaborate portrait of the actors and thieves who made the boulevard their home. The story unfolds around the actress Garance (Arletty) and her rival lovers, who include the mime Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault in the role he created, much like Chaplin’s tramp, for all posterity). Themes of evil and loss, as well as of enduring, secretive fidelity, are woven into this costumed revival of a Paris that was nothing if not French, so that the very making of such a film might be seen as a flamboyantly heroic provocation under the German Occupation. Indeed, Carné presents the film as an allegory on the futility of the Occupation in his prologue: “Garance, like the soul of France, belongs to no one. You may not be able to keep her, but you can certainly enjoy her charms for a night.”

• Written by Jacques Prévert. Photographed by Roger Hubert. With Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Maria Casarès. (182 mins, Intermission, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Janus Films/Criterion Collection)