I love many films but Marcel Carné’s Les enfants du paradis has a special place in my heart, quite simply because it is one of the most beautiful ever made. The fact that its creator is now a rather forgotten figure and that the film does not appear in the Sight and Sound Top 50 of all time is a terrible oversight, in my opinion. At least in France it was voted “the best film ever” in a poll back in 1995. There are many reasons why you should see it; for a start, you enter into 19th century Paris with its boulevards, street shows and most importantly, the world of the theatre. Scripted by Jacques Prévert and with music by Joseph Kosma, it’s a magnificent, sweeping canvas which manages to keep all characters in sight over three hours.
There is the beautiful Garance, comme une fleur, played to perfection by Arletty who was once herself an artist’s muse, and the four men who love her, apparently all based on real figures from this time. The most famous is Frédéric Lemaître, the great actor who can be seen in Daumier’s lithographs in his legendary role as Robert Macaire. In the film he is played to perfection by Pierre Brasseur. Then there is the magnificent Jean-Louis Barrault as the tragic pierrot whose every gesture and facial expression is a work of art. His love for Garance and terrible jealousy will break your heart. The most enigmatic figure is perhaps the criminal Jean-François Lacenaire whose ruthlessness will seal Garance’s fate. And of course, we must not forget the wonderful supporting cast, including Gaston Modot and Maria Casares as Natalie with her voice full of tears. François Truffaut once said that he would give up his films in exchange for Les Enfants du Paradis. It’s a film that truly transcends the medium to become a true work of art and stays with you, not least because its ending is one of the saddest I have ever seen.