Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Children of Paradise

When it came out, some people called Children of Paradise France's answer to Gone with the Wind. Maybe I should have seen that movie first. I'm pretty sure I've actually seen clips of this movie before, in a class where the professor was trying to demonstrate pantomime if memory serves. Theater is a large part of the film's story, as a couple of its main characters make a living there, and a significant amount of screen time is devoted to just showing them plying their trade on stage, in scenes that often but don't always co-mingle with the machinations of the plot. It's about a woman named Garance who is pursued by four very different men, all of whom are based on real people from the period. It's an epic story of love that takes over three hours and two parts to tell, and I was partly surprised by how much I liked it. It seems like the sort of thing that should have dragged interminably, but the look at early 19th century theater was actually interesting, and the writing and acting were generally pretty solid. I can only hope that when I eventually watch Wind it holds up as well over its nearly four hours.

Arletty plays Garance, and she does it pretty well. Despite her being in her late 40s at the time it's believable that every man she'd meet would want her badly, and her flighty way of going through life is interesting without getting annoying. Baptiste and Frederick are masters of pantomime and acting respectively, the former being extremely talented at his art and also the film's most tragic figure, and the latter being the movie's best source of levity and humor. The other two men have a bit less screen time to flesh themselves out as characters, but they're still nicely woven into the years-spanning plot, and provide their share of entertaining exchanged and dramatic moments. William Shakespeare gets referenced repeatedly in the movie, with Frederick even donning the black face to play Othello at one point, and his style of tragedy seems to be what they're going for here. In any case, they got the clever dialogue, heartache, and dramatic bloodshed right. It's long, but I liked it.

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