A Tale in Paradise
TLR Rating: 9 Reels.
Europe has a culture of producing breath taking, path breaking movies from the very early days, and France was the birthplace of these cinemas. It has gifted many influential figures to the cinematic world and among them arguably the most underrated one was Marcel Carne who emotionally overwhelmed all the movie buffs across the world with this marvelous piece of art. Shot in one of the darkest period in the history of French cinema, it is set in the theatrical world of Paris in the era of 1820s and 1830s around a very popular theater Funambules. Some movies inspire people, some movies invokes the philosopher in the audience but this is a movie that can be labelled as a life changing one if one can feel the essence of it. Renowned British film critic David Shipman called it as France’s answer to Gone with the Wind and legendary Nouvelle Vague director Francois Truffaut was so moved by Carne’s magnum opus, that he reported to have commented “I would give up all my films to have directed Children of Paradise”.
One of the unsung geniuses of French cinema Jaques Prevert, pioneer of the poetic realism movement wrote this epic cinematic romance that is unlike anything ever seen before in Europe. The film revolves around an attractive woman Garance and her love story with four different men over a period of time, a mime artist Baptiste Deboreau, the popular theatre actor Frederick Lemaitre, the wealthy aristrocrat Count Edouard de Montray and a thief Pierre Francois Lacenaire. Marcel Carne chose Arletty to play Garance who was in her forties and was a bit too old to play a woman who captivates men with her beauty. This was one brilliant move by the director whose primary intention was to portray her way more than just a sex symbol. Garance is a character who despite of having a miserable childhood lives life to the fullest and relishes every moment of present without worrying about the future. This three hour ten minutes long journey is presented in two different parts as the time limit per film during the Nazi occupied France was ninety minutes. The first part ‘Boulevard of Crime’ shows mainly the daily life style of Parisian common people from various professions during ninetieth century. Among these common men, Baptiste the mime artist falls in love one day with Garance and offers her a career as an actress at Funambules. Hypnotised by the charm of the attractive lady, he failed to notice that Garance was actually interested towards ever charming Frederick Lemaitre, another theatre artist from Funambules who was a self-proclaimed admirer of Shakespeare. One day the Count Edouard comes to witness their play and mesmerized by Garance, offers her a fortune to be his mistress which she politely refuses but later after getting falsely accused of a robbery and attempt to murder, she had to appeal to the aristocrat for protection.
In the second part, ‘The Man in White’, the story starts after a few years when both Baptiste and Frederick rose to fame in their respective professions. In the meantime Baptiste is married to Nathalie and is now a father. Frederick, one day after his performance is confronted by Lacenaire who threatens to kill him for money but ultimately after a little chat became a friend of the great actor. Garance, who is no longer an ever smiling lady, after visiting many places with The Count, returns to Paris to watch the performance of her first lover Baptiste daily at Funambules. The only thing that has not changed a bit over the years is this theatre itself where still the good old days continue to exist. The theatre seems like a different place in this city where there is no place for sorrow and despair. In the gallery Garance meets Frederick who became jealous after knowing that it was Baptiste who was able to win her heart but not him. This jealousy brought out the best in him while playing Othello in the next day at grand theatre where the count was invited. There, after the performance count finds out about this forbidden love between Garance and Baptiste which leads to a feud which ultimately ends with the murder of The Count by Lacenaire who meets his destiny to die with dignity. The film ends with Baptiste running after Garance and fails to find her as she slowly disappears into the massive crowd of carnival.
The ending scene is one of the most emotional moments in cinematic history. It goes in favour with the age old philosophy that our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts. Roman Polanski deliberately made the ending of Chinatown tragic, that’s the main reason that we still talk about it, the same goes with this movie. It gives the feeling of helplessness in front of the cruel circumstances. May be we are all like Garance and Baptiste as we fail to understand the importance of something until it is gone. It is something that is beyond any explanation. The whole movie is filled with brilliant moments, be it the late night walk of Baptiste and Garance or the argument between Nathalie and Garance over Baptiste and the cinematography is so flowing that it will keep one engaged till the end. The title of the movie also can be interpreted in many ways; “paradis” in French means the second balcony in a theatre and children refers to those working class people from second balcony who used to forget everything after entering into the theatre and kept the artist-friendly environment by their spontaneous responses. Or it was the artists themselves who made these theatres a place like paradise for the ever suffering common people with their mesmerizing performances. It may also mean that heaven was actually those good old cultural days which has gone for ever from the world after these fruitless wars. Baptiste and Frederick were real life popular artists in France and Carne wonderfully portrayed them as common people and showed that their life was also just like one of us, filled with highs and lows. Shooting this movie during Nazi occupation was a nightmare for the whole crew. Many crew members were actually Jews, who despite of having the death warrants against them worked on this film which is the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of art and the sets depicting Paris of the early ninetieth century was a cinematic marvel indeed.
In short the movie asks more questions than giving any distinct conclusion. The film is completely open for the viewers to explore it in their own ways and the director used the medium of cinema to its full potential. Some movies form parts of a revolution but this movie itself was a revolution. Even after 72 years of its release, it is still as fresh as a daisy.
The author is an electrical engineer, a movie buff and a big fan of Satyajit Ray.