Children of Paradise

Children of Paradise
Children of Paradise
Directed by Marcel Carné
Produced by Raymond Borderie
Fred Orain
Written by Jacques Prévert
Starring Arletty
Jean-Louis Barrault
Pierre Brasseur
Pierre Renoir
Music by Maurice Thiriet
Cinematography Marc Fossard
Roger Hubert
Editing by Henri Rust
Madeleine Bonin
Release date(s) March 9, 1945 (France)
November 15, 1946 (USA)
Running time 190 min (uncut version on DVD)
Country France
Language French

Les Enfants du Paradis, released as Children of Paradise in North America, is a 1945 French film by French director Marcel Carné, made during the German occupation of France during World War II. Set among the Parisian theatre scene of the 1820s and 30s, it tells the story of a beautiful courtesan, Garance, and the four men who love her in their own ways: a mime artist, an actor, a criminal and an aristocrat. A three-hour film divided into two halves, it was described in the original American trailer as the French answer to Gone with the Wind.[1] The film was voted "Best Film Ever" in a poll of 600 French critics and professionals in 1995.



As noted by one critic, "in French, 'paradis' is the colloquial name for the gallery or second balcony in a theater, where common people sat and viewed a play, responding to it honestly and boisterously. The actors played to these gallery gods, hoping to win their favor, the actor himself thus being elevated to an Olympian status."[2] The film contains many shots of the audience hanging over the edge of these balconies (which are similarly known as "the gods" in the British theatre), and screenwriter Jacques Prévert stated that the title "refers to the actors [...] and the audiences too, the good-natured, working-class audience."[3]

The story


Children of Paradise is set in the theatrical world of Paris during the July Monarchy (1830–48), centred on the area around the "Funambules" theatre, situated on the Boulevard du Temple — pejoratively referred to as the "Boulevard du Crime".[4] The film revolves around a beautiful and charismatic courtesan, Garance (played by the famous Arletty). Four men — the mime Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault), the actor Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), the thief Pierre François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), and the aristocrat Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou) — are in love with Garance, and their intrigues drive the story forward. Garance is briefly intrigued/involved with them all, but leaves them when they attempt to force her to love on their terms, rather than her own. The mime Baptiste is the one who suffers the most in pursuit of the unattainable Garance.

Story sources

The four men courting Garance are all based on real French personalities of the 1820s and 1830s. Baptiste Debureau was a famous mime and Frédérick Lemaître was an acclaimed actor on the 'Boulevard of Crime' depicted in the film. Pierre Lacenaire was an infamous French criminal, and the fictional character of the Comte Édouard de Montray was inspired by the Duc de Morny.

The idea for making a movie based on these characters came from a chance meeting between Carné and Jean-Louis Barrault, in Nice, during which Barrault pitched the idea of making a movie based on Debureau and Lemaître. Carné, who at the time was hesitant about which movie to direct next, proposed this idea to his friend Jacques Prévert. Prévert was initially reluctant to write a movie about a mime, which of course would not well convey his strength in writing dialogue, but then he saw the opportunity to include the character of Lacenaire, the "Dandy of crime", who fascinated him. The Germans were then occupying the whole of France, and Prévert is rumoured to have said "They will not let me do a movie about Lacenaire, but I can put Lacenaire in a film about Debureau".[5]

Plot summary

Children of Paradise is divided into two "epochs," Boulevard du Crime ("Boulevard of Crime") and L'Homme Blanc ("The Man in White"). The first begins around 1827, the second about seven years later. The action takes place mainly in the neighborhood of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, nicknamed "Boulevard of Crime" because of all the melodramas and bloody scenarios offered to the largely plebian public each evening. There are two principal theaters: the Théâtre des Funambules ("Theater of Tightrope Walkers") specializes in pantomime, since the authorities do not allow it to use spoken dialogue, which is reserved for the "official" venue, the Grand Theater.

Part I: Boulevard of Crime
A young actor and womanizer, Frédérick Lemaître, dreams of becoming a star. He meets and flirts with Garance, a beautiful woman who earns her living by exhibiting her physical charms (modestly) in a carnival show. Garance staves off Frédérick's advances and goes to visit one of her acquaintances, Pierre-François Lacenaire, a rebel in revolt against society. Lacenaire is a proud, dangerous individual who works as a scrivener to cover his organized criminal enterprises. Shortly thereafter, Garance is accused of stealing a man's gold watch while she is watching a pantomime featuring Baptiste Debureau and a barker (Baptiste's father) in front of the Funambules Theater. Lacenaire is in fact the guilty party. Baptiste, dressed up as the stock character Pierrot, saves her from the police by silently acting out the theft, which he has just witnessed. He reveals a great talent, a veritable vocation for pantomime, but falls immediately and irremediably in love with Garance, saving a flower she thanked him with.

Baptiste the mime and Garance.

Baptiste's father is one of the stars at the Funambules. The daughter of the theater director, Nathalie, who is a mime also, is deeply in love with Baptiste. Before the performance that evening, a used-clothes peddler named Jéricho reads in her palm that she will marry the man she loves, as he knew her father was worried about her mood affecting her performances. When a fight breaks out that evening between two rival clans of actors, Baptiste and Frédérick manage to calm the crowd down by improvising a mime act, thus saving the day's receipts. The most enthusiastic of the spectators are those seated in "the gods" ("paradis", paradise, in the French theatre), that is, on the top floor of the balcony where the cheapest seats are located.

Later that night, Baptiste catches sight of Garance with Lacenaire and his accomplices in a seedy restaurant/dancehall, "Le Rouge Gorge" (a pun: this means "The Robin" or "The Red Breast", but literally translates as "The Red Throat," a reference to the previous owner's throat having been slit). When he invites Garance to dance, he is thrown out of the restaurant by Avril, one of Lacenaire's thugs. He turns the situation around and leaves with Garance, for whom he finds a room at the same boarding house where he and Frédérick live. After declaring his love, Baptiste flees Garance's room when she says she doesn't return his love in the same way, despite her clear invitation to stay. When Frédérick hears Garance singing in her room, which is next to his, he quickly joins her.

Baptiste becomes the star of the Funambules; fueled by his passion, he writes several very popular pantomimes, performing with Garance and Frédérick, who have become lovers. Baptiste is tormented by their affair, while Nathalie, who is convinced that she and Baptiste are "made for each other," suffers from his lack of love for her.

Garance is visited in her dressing room by the Count Édouard de Montray, a wealthy and cynical dandy who offers her his fortune if she will agree to become his mistress. Garance is repelled by him and mockingly rejects his proposition. The count nonetheless offers her his protection if the need were to arise. She is later unjustly suspected of complicity in an abortive robbery and murder attempt by Lacenaire and Avril. To avoid arrest she is forced to appeal to Count Édouard for protection. The first part of the film comes to an end with this development.

Part II: The Man in White
Several years later, Frédérick has become famous as the star of the Grand Theater. A man about town and a spendthrift, he is covered with debts - which doesn't prevent him from devastating the mediocre play in which he currently has the main role by exposing it to ridicule in rehearsal and then playing it for laughs, rather than straight melodrama, on opening night. Despite achieving a smashing success, the play's three fussy authors are still outraged and challenge him to a duel. He accepts and when he returns to his dressing room, Frédérick is confronted by Lacenaire, who apparently intends to rob and kill him. However, the criminal is an amateur playwright and strikes up a friendship with the actor instead. He and Avril serve as Frédérick's seconds the next morning, when the actor arrives at the duel dead drunk.

Baptiste is enjoying even greater success as a mime at the Funambules. When Frédérick goes to a performance the day after surviving the duel, he is surprised to find himself in the same box as Garance. His old flame has returned to Paris after having traveled throughout the world with the Count de Montray, who has kept her these several years. She has been attending the Funambules every night incognito to watch Baptiste perform. She knows she has always been genuinely in love with him. Frédérick suddenly finds himself jealous for the first time in his life. While the feeling is highly unpleasant, he remarks that his jealousy will help him as an actor. He will finally be able to play the role of Othello, having now experienced the emotions which motivate the character. Garance asks Frédérick to tell Baptiste of her presence, but Nathalie, now Baptiste's wife, is first informed by the spiteful rag-man Jéricho. She sends their small son to Garance's box to mortify her with their family's happiness. By the time Frédérick alerts Baptiste and he rushes to find her, the box is empty.

When Garance returns to the Count's luxurious mansion, she finds Lacenaire waiting for her. Lacenaire satisfies himself that Garance has no love for him and, on his way out, encounters the Count, who is irritated to see such an individual in his home. Lacenaire reacts to the Count's challenge with threats, revealing the knife at his belt. Later, Garance declares to the Count that she will never love him since she is already in love with another man, but declares she will continue to try to please him, and offers to spread the word on the streets that she is "mad" about him, if he would like.

Frédérick has finally achieved his dream of playing the role of Othello. The Count, who insists on attending the performance with Garance, is convinced that the actor is the man she loves. At a break in the play, the Count coolly mocks Frédérick, trying to provoke him into a duel. Elsewhere Baptiste, who is also in the audience, encounters Garance at last. When Lacenaire takes Frédérick's side in the verbal jousting, the Count attempts to humiliate him as well. Lacenaire takes revenge by calling him a cuckold and, dramatically pulling back a curtain, reveals Garance in Baptiste's embrace on the balcony. The two lovers slip away to spend the night together in Garance's former room at The Great Post House.

The next morning, at a Turkish bath, Lacenaire assassinates the count for having had him thrown out of the theater. He then calmly sits to wait for the police and meet his "destiny", which is to die on the scaffold. At the rooming house, Nathalie finds Baptiste with Garance. With Nathalie desperate and pleading her wifely rights, Garance declares that she has "been with" Baptiste for the past six years as much as Nathalie, his wife, has. She flees, pursued by the equally desperate Baptiste, who is soon lost in the frantic Carnival crowd amid a sea of bobbing masks and unheeding, white Pierrots. The film ends as Baptiste is swept away and as Garance makes her escape in her carriage, still unaware that her protector, the Count, is dead.[6]


  • Arletty as Claire "Garance" Reine
  • Jean-Louis Barrault as Baptiste Deburau
  • Pierre Brasseur as Frédérick Lemaître
  • Marcel Herrand as Pierre-François Lacenaire
  • Pierre Renoir as Jéricho
  • María Casares as Nathalie (credited as María Casarès)
  • Louis Salou as Comte Édouard de Montray
  • Gaston Modot as Fil de Soie
  • Fabien Loris as Avril
  • Marcel Pérès as Director of the Funambules
  • Pierre Palau as Stage manager of the Funambules
  • Etienne Decroux as Anselme Debureau (credited as Étienne Decroux)
  • Jane Marken as Mme. Hermine (credited as Jeanne Marken)
  • Marcelle Monthil as Marie
  • Louis Florencie as Policeman
  • Habib Benglia as Turkish Bath Attendant
  • Rognoni as Director, 'Grand Theatre'
  • Jacques Castelot as George
  • Paul Frankeur as Police Inspector
  • Albert Rémy as Scarpia Barrigni
  • Robert Dhéry as Celestin
  • Auguste Bovério as First Author (credited as Auguste Boverio)
  • Paul Demange as Second Author


The film was made under extremely difficult conditions. External sets in Nice were badly damaged by natural causes, and exacerbated and compounded by the theatrical constraints during the German occupation of France during World War II. The film was split into two parts because the Vichy administration had imposed a maximum time limit of 90 minutes for feature films.

Noted critic Pauline Kael wrote that, allegedly, "the starving extras made away with some of the banquets before they could be photographed".[7] Many of the 1,800 extras were Resistance agents using the film as daytime cover, who, until the Liberation, had to mingle with some collaborators or Vichy sympathisers who were imposed on the production by the authorities.[8] Alexandre Trauner, who designed the sets, and Joseph Kosma, who composed the music, were Jewish and had to work in complete secrecy throughout the production and their work was attributed to others in the credits.

The set builders were short of supplies and the camera crew's film stock was rationed. The financing, originally a French-Italian production, collapsed a few weeks after production began in Nice, due to the Allied conquest of Sicily in August 1943. Around this time, the Nazis forbade the producer, André Paulvé, from working on the film because of his remote Jewish ancestry, and the production had to be suspended for three months. Pathé Cinéma took over production, whose cost was escalating wildly. The quarter-mile long main set, the "Boulevard du Temple", was severely damaged by a storm and had to be rebuilt. By the time shooting resumed in Paris in early spring of 1944, the Director of Photography, Roger Hubert, had been assigned to another production and Philippe Agostini, who replaced him, had to analyze all the reels in order to match the lighting of the non-sequential shot list; all the while, electricity in the Paris Studios was intermittent.

Production was delayed again after the Allies landed in Normandy, perhaps intentionally stalled so that it would only be completed after the French Liberation. When Paris was liberated in August 1944, the actor Robert le Vigan, who was, ironically, cast in the role of informer-thief Jéricho, was sentenced to death by the Resistance for collaborating with the Nazis, and had to flee, along with the author Céline, to Sigmaringen. He was replaced at a moment’s notice by Pierre Renoir, older brother of French filmmaker Jean Renoir and son of the famous painter, and most of the scenes had to be redone.[5] Vigan was tried and convicted as a Nazi collaborator in 1946. One scene featuring Vigan survives in the middle of the second part, when Jericho snitches to Nathalie.[9]

Carné and Prévert hid some of the key reels of film from the occupying forces, hoping that Paris would be liberated by the time the film was completed.[citation needed]

Baptiste's father is played by mime and mime theorist Etienne Decroux, who was Jean-Louis Barrault's teacher (as well as Marcel Marceau's). Many of his character's lines about theatre can be interpreted as ironic statements on his own work in corporeal mime.[citation needed]

After the film was made, accusations of collaboration made against Arletty were met with her classic response: "My heart is French but my ass is international."[10]

Release versions

The film had its premiere in Paris, at the Chaillot Palace on March 9, 1945, in its entirety. Carné then had to fight with the producers to have the film shown exclusively in two theatres (Madeleine and Colisée) instead of one and in its entirety and without an intermission. He also pioneered the idea of the public being able to reserve their seats in advance.

The producers accepted Carné's demands on the condition that they be able to charge double the price of admittance. Children of Paradise became an instant and monumental success, remaining on the screen of the Madeleine Theater for 54 weeks.

There are various alternate cuts of this film; the complete version, which is available on DVD, is variously described as 190 minutes (Second Sight Films, 1991) and 195 minutes (Criterion Collection, 2002).[11][12]

In popular culture

  • In the Centre Pompidou in Paris, there is a theater named after Arletty's character, the Salle Garance (Garance's Room).
  • A copy of the film plays a significant part in the plot of Flicker, a cult novel by Theodore Roszak.
  • The Japanese theater troupe Tenjō Sajiki (天井桟敷?) took its name from the Japanese title, Tenjō Sajiki no Hitobito (天井桟敷の人々?).
  • In the Tom Robbins novel Still Life with Woodpecker, the protagonist, an outlaw bomber nicknamed "The Woodpecker" (hence the title), cites the film - and its successful underground production in Nazi-occupied France - as a justification of his claim that even in the event of a global catastrophe, people can always find freedom and beauty.
  • British musician Marianne Faithfull has written lyrics based on the story.
  • Singer Bob Dylan has said that this film was a large influence on his 1975 surreal film Renaldo and Clara.[citation needed]
  • In James A. Michener`s novel The Drifters, the narrator mentions in a digression that he learns foreign languages by listening to lectures by tutors. The "aha" moment for French was when the tutor, lecturing on French actresses, mentions Arletty. This starts another digression, that the narrator knew a psychiatrist who made every new patient go see Children of Paradise, and would then quiz the patient about which character they identify with.
  • Filmmaker Terry Gilliam did a five minute video presentation for the Criterion release, in which he saluted Children of Paradise as one of his favorites and a source of inspiration, because of its dreamlike quality.
  • Simon Callow directed a stage adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1996. It was a notorious flop.
  • In 2006 the London-based theatre company Simple8 adapted the film for the stage.
  • In a DVD extra of the 2004 documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, Z Channel program director Jerry Harvey is quoted as saying that Children of Paradise is his favorite film of all time. (The quote comes from an interview originally recorded in 1985 on Santa Monica's KCRW radio station.)
  • Le Ballet des coeurs, a work based on Les Enfants du Paradis, choreographed by Michael Smuin, and featuring songs from the Edith Piaf repertoire performed by Raquel Bitton, has been performed by the San Francisco Ballet and the Washington Ballet.

See also



  1. ^ Original trailer, available on the Criterion Collection DVD edition.
  2. ^ DeWitt Bodeen, Les Enfants du Paradis,
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Microsoft Corporation. "Théâtre du Funambules". MSN Encarta. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  5. ^ a b Les Enfants du Paradis, by Philippe Morisson (French)
  6. ^ Singerman, Alan, French Cinema: The Student's Book,(English edition) 2006.
  7. ^ Quoted by Roger Ebert, Children of Pardise, Chicago Sun-Times, 6 January 2002 review oif the Criterion DVD release
  8. ^ [2] Gio MacDonald, Edinburgh University Film Society program notes, 1994-95
  9. ^ Debi Lee Mandel, review of the DVD version on
  10. ^ Geoffrey Nowell Smith, The Oxford History of World Cinema, page 347. See also Arletty, "mon coeur est français mais mon cul est international !"
  11. ^ The difference is likely due to the speed differences between NTSC and PAL video formats. The Criterion version has since been re-released by Pathé Classique with a remastered Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, unfortunately only available in Zone 2.
  12. ^ Comparison of DVD versions of Children of Paradise on

Other sources

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