Les enfants du paradis
Written by: Jean Cocteau
Directed by: Jacques Prévert
Starring: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur
My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous TV reviews!
Set in Paris during 1820s and 1830s, four men with different backgrounds each love the same woman.
This sprawling epic explores love, life, and the intertwined fates of four men all infatuated with Garance. They each want her love, but want to define how she loves. Time and distance do nothing to cool their desires. It's a love story with a tragic conclusion.
The title refers to the cheaper balcony seats at a theater, where the most enthusiastic patrons sit. Hailed as one of the best French films, this was marketed in the U.S. as a French Gone with the Wind (1939).
Four men love Garance, but she refuses to bend to their wills. The men are the mime Baptiste, the actor Frédérick Lemaître, the thief Pierre François Lacenaire, and the aristocrat Édouard de Montray.
After a night together, Baptists pleads with Garance to love him the way he loves her, and that is the problem. The men want her unwavering devotion, to which she is unwilling to give. The infatuation stems from her beauty and charisma. She's the allure of the unattainable. For Baptist love is devotion, for Frédérick it's sensual. Édouard just wants a pretty girl on his arm.
Baptiste pines for Garance, while ignoring Nathalie's love for him. She's a fellow mime, but he ignores her despite the fact Garance has moved on and is living with Frédérick.
Nathalie is a tragic character. She loves a man who never truly loved her. When Garance returns, her entire life is wrecked, though, Nathalie knew she married a man that didn't truly love her. Her desires trumped Baptiste's, which isn't that different from the definition of love between Garance and her suitors. All of the relationships are one sided.
Perhaps Garance is afraid to love. Her job we see from the first scene is to look pretty for a stage act. She's afraid to love because she thinks her suitors are only interested in her beauty which can fade. If she refuses to love, she avoids the pain she envisions when the relationship ends.
This is almost a mockery of true love. Each man has found their true love, at least what they call true love, but she is one and they are four. Garance finally settles on Édouard, out of convenience and necessity over emotion. She chose opportunity.
Several years later Baptiste and Frédérick are a successful mime and actor. Baptiste finally married Nathalie and has a child, but all these years later and none of the men have gotten over Garance.
She admits she truly cares about Baptiste, and he throws his family away to be wither her, but when morning comes she has left to return to Édouard.
Love is suffering. None of the characters love without pain and hardship.