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Marcel Carné

A few weeks ago I watched Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise.

I had heard of it before but always assumed it had something to do with Les Enfants Terrible and had no interest. But luckily, browsing through the Criterion Channel, “a movie lover’s dream”, I clicked on it. It’s about a courtesan, named Garance, in the early 1800s in Paris, and four men over the years: ?a very serous mime, a womanizing actor, a criminal, and a count. It’s three hours long, in black and white, filmed through the last years of WWII under the Vichy government. Much of it is set in the theater, and the “children of paradise” are the people that sit in the cheap seats high up at the back.?There are vast crowd scenes at the theater and in the streets.

Garance and the four men all are interested in love, but each of them implicitly have something slightly different in mind when they think about love. And so they all give something different from what’s expected and expect something different from what’s given.

It’s a wonderful movie — I’m sorry I never discovered it before.

Carné fell out of fashion after the war when the French New Wave started. He tells stories full of subtle drama, but it’s old fashioned. He continued until 1996 .

Arletty, who plays Garance, had a liaison with a German officer during WWII and was imprisoned afterwards. She is reputed to have said: My heart is French, but my ass, that is international.

One of the lines that I recall:

  • If all couples living together were in love the earth would glow like the sun

I started watching another movie by Carné on Criterion, Hotel du Nord. It’s not as good, but has the same quality. He’s a chronicler of sudden misguided acts on wrong impulses, and conversations in noisy crowds. Perhaps Robert Altman was inspired by him.

I see he also much later made a movie from the Simenon book Three rooms in Manhattan, which I once read, starring Annie Girardot, and will have to see if I can track down in an American version.

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