Children of Paradise | Film review
Marcel Carné’s backstage classic has likely never looked more lush.
Before French cinema reinvented itself with jump cuts and cool bobs, Marcel Carné’s 19th-century backstage drama was the epitome of good taste: a sumptuous spread of genteel sparring and epic heartache. It doesn’t seem dated now—at least no more so than Breathless does—but the real revelation of Children of Paradise for today’s audience is behavioral: Were actors always this adorably vain? (Duh.) The cryptic Arletty allures from the sidelines as Garance, a love object to three characters, yet she won’t grab you as firmly as Jean-Louis Barrault’s fragile, almost abstract mime, Baptiste, enchanting crowds nightly, or the supreme hamminess of Pierre Brasseur’s Frédérick, a star in his head long before fame hits.
The movie arrives in a speckless restoration—though not as a print. Rather, it’s being projected as a DCP (digital cinema package), increasingly becoming the industry standard. Will you be able to tell the difference? Having seen the presentation, I’d say no: It’s likely that Carné’s film has never looked more lush. The arguments concerning the switchover are complex and hot-blooded; there’s nostalgia for the old reels, plus a serious economic question of which titles get to make the leap. But how many times have you sat through a screening that’s been slightly out of focus? That problem is now solved, and let’s not understate it—if a genius work like Carné’s could result in a massive headache, there’s no point in preserving anything.