|Not sure if this is a romantic or a cynical statement. Maybe both?
The story is set in the Paris of the 19th Century, at a time when there were two types of theatre: the classy sort with dialogue and wealthy audiences; and the Pantomime - not the Panto of modern Britain, but a mute sort of melodrama, somewhere between mime, ballet and cartoon, to which the poor flock for their entertainment, and, on a good day, get to see unplanned physical fights break out among the cast on stage. The 'paradis' of the title, by the way, is the uppermost circle of audience seating, which in the UK is called 'the gods'.
|Shakespearian charmer Frédérick Lemaître, and the elusive Garance
It's an interestingly stylised work, perhaps drawing inspiration from the theatres it describes. When I first watched it, I wondered whether this was a melodrama of sorts, with everything 'writ large', since some characters seemed at first to be types: the optimistic charmer with theatrical ambitions, the villainous cad with the moustache and the murderous manner, and so on. As it goes on, though, the characters show themselves to be far more interesting, and far more real, making intelligent decisions at odds with my expectations, and showing themselves to be much more nuanced than they first appeared. Though told very colourfully, even joyfully, this is a world of real human mistakes and rectifications, passionate but destructively asymmetrical love-affairs.
|Lacenaire is kinda the villain I've always wanted to be, except...
The film also follows Lacenaire, who somehow manages to be the film's villain without ever really opposing the film's heroes, and Lemaître, a chancer who leaps into acting on a whim, and finds himself excellently popular. Lemaître has a dream of acting some Shakespeare (oh, you know, that British guy who wrote all those brutal and vulgar melodramas), and tears apart lesser writers, memorably ad libbing a new ending to a disappointing play, refusing to die on cue, and taking the whole audience with him into a magnificent condemnation of the playwrights.
|Baptiste and Garance
Despite having seen this only twice, I'd happily claim it as one of my favourite films, and even in translation one of my favourite scripts to anything. Despite its tragic turns and complications, few films make me so happy as this, and very few are so suited to my tastes. Said François Truffaut, "I would give up all my films to have directed Children of Paradise". As a writer of sorts, I'd happily say something very similar of the screenplay. Off-hand, I'd be hard-pressed to find something I'd more happily be responsible for than this. Its lightness of touch, its sense of freedom, beauty and delight is all the more notable for the fact it was filmed in an occupied country in the midst of a war.
P.S. It turns out the actors I praised are both in 'The Longest Day' (1962), which I accidentally bought from a charity shop last year, so I imagine I'll be slipping that in somewhere later in the project. Is it any good?
I'd urge you to watch this film some day. It's extremely good, and it saddens me to think something so good, so well-made, so enjoyable, with these performances and this dialogue, is as good as unknown in the UK.