14 August 2000 | jim-574
you will be left with so much you never knew before, that you always thought existed
Film Review by Jim Richardson
First published in "Der Stump" 7/16/75
GREATEST FILM EVER MADE
The greatest film ever made is director Marcel Carne's "Children of Paradise" with script by Jacques Prevert. It's hard to say more.
In Paris of the 1840's on Le Boulevard du Crime, Carne's camera soars through sideshow entertainments of every description. The motion picture has just begun. No characters introduced. Already the audience is gasping, dizzy, lost in a swirl of romantic imagery. We are inside a theatre sharing the cheapest seats in the last row of the top balcony near the ceiling with the "children of paradise." We forget ourselves and any notion that a film has to be "realistic" as we float along catching Carne's glimpse of this lost, fantastic era. The movie moves. It overflows with art and intelligence; we are totally under its spell of romance and beauty.
As the story unfolds, we watch it in a daze. There is suffering and sudden death. But no leaden hand is telling us this is a stylized allegory dealing with the paralysis of an occupied France. This is the kind of film people make when they may die tomorrow: we are compelled to receive it on the edge of our seat, every nerve tingling with desperate anticipation. We don't need to know that it was made between 1943-45 when some of the filmmakers were being hunted by the Gestapo, that starving extras stole banquets before they could be photographed.
Every movement the performers make is studied, made perfect as though this would be the last time any of them were to act. Garbo interests you? Meet Arletty. The ideal twentieth century woman. Witty. Controlled. Passionate. When she comes to her lover she glides toward the camera, walking without the use of her feet. Impossible? Not this time.
Jean-Louis Barrault playing Baptiste Debureau, the greatest French mime who created Pierrot (a pale, love-sick, ever-hopeful seeker after happiness) -- Barrault transcends the man's legend with elegant pathos. And the way he moves. Like a feather. How did he learn that?
The man who taught him plays his father in the film. As a matter of fact, Etienne Decroux taught Marcel Marceau as well. What does Decroux think of Marceau's popular mime? Snarls, "Walt Disney!"
Mime is serious to Decroux. At some of his performances if the audience interrupts with applause, he is insulted and immediately retires from the stage!
In the film, we see Barrault do many of Decroux's mime exercises during moments of Debureau's performances. Does Decroux think this is a good film? It is said that when he views it, tears run down his cheeks as he mouths all the lines.
But the film is not just about mime. Pierre Brasseur plays the most renowned romantic actor in France, Frederick LeMaitre. Decroux doesn't want him in his mime company at first because it's so obvious that "he's an actor." Frederick gets his break when he mocks a playwright by turning the man's melodrama into a farce. Years pass and both actor and mime become successful. But the actor cannot play "Othello" because he is so vain nothing can make him feel jealousy. That's right: Arletty cures him!
And there are aristocrats, and murderers, and thieves. And the film is over three hours long without a break. And you will be surprised how fast those three hours disappear!
You will be overcome with a feeling of ecstasy; you will sign, you will cry. And as your breath is taken away you will be left with so much you never knew before, that you always thought existed; something will have happened to you for the first time, and forever. Now is the time to fall in love with the best there is!