Monday, June 22, 2015

Children of Paradise II

Les Enfants du Paradis (II); drama, France, 1945; D: Marcel Carné, S: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Marcel Herrand, Pierre Brasseur, Pierre Renoir, María Casares

Over six years after the last events, Frederick is now a successful theatre actor, but is openly ridiculing how bad the plays are he is in, and how he only plays them for money. By chance, when he goes to look at a play of his old acquittance, pantomime Baptiste, he finds their old love there, Garance, who returned to Paris with her rich husband Edouard. Frederick finds out she has been watching Baptiste's plays for weeks, and that she never forgot about him. Baptiste is now married to Nathalie and they have a child, but he forgets them and spends the night with Garance. Crook Lacenaire, who was also in love with Garance, returns and kills Edouard in a Turkish bath, but just decides to wait for the police to arrest him there. When Nathalie finds Baptiste with Garance in the apartment, she confronts her. Garance leaves in a carriage, while Baptiste unsuccessfully tries to stop her in a crowd of a carnival.

The second part of the famous French drama film "Children of Paradise" is even better than the first part due to a richer film language. While part I had an interesting, yet conventionally executed plot of four men trying to win a favor of a woman, Garance (Arletty), part II is quietly brilliant and inventive for actually showing the hero, actor Frederick, live six years after he lost the woman he loved to another in the main arc, in some sort of a 'post-story' world: he is a cynic and openly loathes the play in which he has to star, and even goes so far to turn it into a parody when he leaves the stage, goes to a balcony, presents himself with his real name and recites: "I am a criminal, but I am just the hand that follows orders, and the real criminals are the people behind the curtain, the authors of this play", whereupon he points at the three playwrights (!) on the other balcony, causing a burst of laughter from the audience. The main plot tangle starts to ignite the narrative even further when the woman of the four men, Garance, returns to Paris, and he finds her observing the play of pantomime Baptiste. Frederick is so jealous he brings himself to comment the situation with stoic irony: "Garance, you helped meNow I can play Othello".

As the title suggests, the 'paradis', the colloquial name for the 1st class balcony in the theatre, becomes a place for the review of the two actors on stage, Frederick and Baptiste, and thus the fact that Garance goes to watch them in different plays gives the film a metafilm touch since she judges not just who is a better lover, but also a better artist. The influence of the lives of actors on art and vice-versa starts to become palpable and gives the film further spark (Baptiste is a comedian and a pantomime, but he can switch to a mean and serious persona in a second on stage due to his bitter experience with Garance; Garance cheats on Edouard after the "Othello" play; a sad Baptiste in the carnival crowd, surrounded by dozens of his cheerful pantomime "clones"). The whole film flows so smoothly it is incredible and the viewers think it lasted only a moment, whereas all the actors are brilliant. Likewise, it is not quite an innocent love story, either, since Garance is a rather 'shady' character: she decided to marry one man, but then returns six years later with intentions that almost border on teasing Baptiste: the sequence where his wife, Nathalie, finds Baptiste and Garance in the apartment is cliche, but it is followed by a powerful, defining moment when she shuts the door and confronts Garance with a great quote: "It must be easy." - "What?" - "To leave and return later. You leave, while others suffer. The time does its thing and you return, even more beautiful than before. Oh yes, that must be easy. But to live with only one person, share your routine with him, that is difficult." This sums up Garance's character: she only enjoys flattering, but as soon as she has to commit to someone, she runs away. The film suffers from a "disappearance" of Frederick in the final act and a lack of a proper ending (though it can be interpreted that the story has no ending is and only a cycle of repeating patterns), yet it is excellent and one of the stronger French films of the 40s.


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