‘Les Enfants du Paradis’ is one of those movies that will always inevitably be on nearly every top 10 list of the greatest movies ever made. Every filmmaker and every critic will tell you that this is one of ‘those’ movies. You know, one of the big, big classics that everyone has to watch. And sometimes, when there’s a big commotion about a particular film, people might be put off and then, when they watch it, they’re disappointed. I call this the ‘Citizen Kane syndrome’. (I personally don’t feel that way about Citizen Kane. I think it is, indeed, the greatest movie ever made.) Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants Du Paradis (or Children of Paradise), luckily, does not suffer from Citizen Kane syndrome. It’s every bit as great as everyone says it is. It’s about three hours long, divided into two parts, and it revolves around beautiful courtesan Garance and the four men who are in love with her. Set in the theater world of Paris, the American trailer called it the French version of Gone With the Wind. I personally like it even better than Gone With the Wind.
The making of the film is almost as fascinating as the film itself. It was shot in Paris and Nice during the Nazi occupation and some of its crew members were working in hiding. Some even had to discuss and submit their ideas via intermediaries. The set, made to represent Paris’ Boulevard of Crime complete with artisans, prostitutes, mimes and the likes, as well as the theater itself and the mansions, was the largest set built for a French film. In the 18 months it took to make it, it became the most expensive film made in France at that point. Needless to say, the making of Les Enfants du Paradis has been often been described as ‘miraculous’.
Francois Truffaut famously once said ‘I would have given up all of my films to have directed Les Enfants Du Paradis’. I can see his point.