The French cinema classic "Children of Paradise" (Les Enfants du Paradis) releases on a two-disc Blu-ray set courtesy of The Criterion Collection. This 1945 intellectual saga by Marcel Carné impressively reconstructs a tragic tale of love and life in bygone Paris as four men fall in love with the same elusive woman. The film's title refers to the common nickname for the second balcony of French theaters where common patrons' praises or catcalls either make or break a production.
This three-hour sweeping epic takes place in two distinct acts. The first introduces the key characters involved in a romantic pentagon as a street mime, a pretentious actor, a conniving thief, and an aristocrat all vie for the love of a mysterious woman. The second examines how they eventually fall into loveless relationships and how they inevitably find themselves victims of circumstances. The film stars Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Pierre Renoir, Marcel Herrand, and Albert Remy. It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Set in the Parisian theatre scene of the 1840s, Carné meticulously recreates the era with his sumptuous sets, luxurious costumes, and huge cast of extras. Interestingly, he showcases a grand vision of a world devoid of doom, amidst filming during the Nazi occupation. A wonderful and dreamy feel typically inhabits every frame. Ironically, this black-and-white, full-screen presentation's unusually poetic atmosphere never feels detached from reality. The characters impeccably radiate authentic emotions that the general audience can relate to.
Considering its age, this meticulously restored and thematically ambitious art-house piece delivers adequate details in HD format. Certain visual flaws, including the cinematography's intentional soft-focus and shadow effects, are kept in the transfer to maintain the authenticity and novelty of its source material. However, traces of moderate to very heavy digital filtering contribute to the picture's lack of significant depth. Occasional halo, banding, and posterization issues are also very noticeable in some parts.
The film provides a French LPCM mono track that is understandably limited by the audio recording technology of its time. There is an obvious hollowness to the quality of the speaking lines, but these are never overpowered by the music and audio effects. Amidst the unavoidably boxy and muffled sound and narrow dynamic activity of the mix, the sound remains generally stable with no heavy background noise or audio dropouts. There are also no crucial hissing, crackling, and popping problems plaguing the track.
This combo pack offers a host of informative extras found in a separate Blu-ray disc. Audio commentaries featuring film scholars Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron, a restoration demonstration, Julie Bonan's documentary entitled "Once Upon a Time: Children of Paradise," Peter Gehrig's documentary "The Birth of Children of Paradise," and Paul Ryan's visual essay "The Look of Children of Paradise" highlight this Blu-ray edition's wealth of supplements. The disc also houses the film's U.S. trailer and a short introduction by director Terry Gilliam. All video materials are presented in HD format.
The package includes a 41-page illustrated booklet featuring film scholar Dudley Andrew's essay, along with excerpts from a 1990 Carné interview, film stills, cast and crew list, chapter listing, and restoration notes. It supplies the film with an easy-to-read English subtitle option as well.
"Children of Paradise" features a nimble and sophisticated depiction of 19th-century Paris. From its sensitive direction to its tremendously moving performances, this poetic-realist drama effectively conveys human passions and desires through its multilayered story. It is worth watching for its poignant exploration of the varying facets of love and ill-fated romance.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Les Enfants du Paradis