One of the glories of cinema, the romantic’s delight, the sophisticate’s cult favourite. The fifth collaboration between director Marcel Carne and screenwriter Jacques Prevert opened in Paris, March 1945 and was quickly hailed as France’s Gone With The Wind. But the real reason the French held it so dear was that it was one of the cornerstone films of le cinemas d’evasion, the French film industry’s brave response to the Nazi occupation. It is amazing that this affront to the Nazis, which celebrates a free France, could be made under the noses of the occupation authorities. Secret filming took place over two years in garages and alleys, during which time members of the French resistance were able to hide from the Gestapo because they were among 1800 extras employed.
Les Enfants du Paradis is a one of a kind film, a sumptuous epic about the relations between theatre and life. It is a lavish, intensely romantic evocation of an epoch with a cast of fictitious and historical characters thronging the Boulevard du Crime in the theatre district of 1840’s Paris. The film is a cry for a return to the past, for liberty, for solidarity between artists and their public, for solidarity among all French people. This film is great on many levels, from romance to propaganda. Oddly, while almost evrey character’s life is in ruin at the end, you leave the theatre feeling as happy as all the French who crowd the streets in the carnival like finale.