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Les Enfants du Paradis

22 September 2012 4:05 PM, PDT | The Guardian - Film News | See recent The Guardian - Film News news »

(Marcel Carné, 1945, Second Sight, PG)

This vibrant three-hour epic was made during the German occupation by director Marcel Carné, poet Jacques Prévert and designer Alexandre Trauner, the chief creators of the so-called poetic realism that dominated French cinema in the late 1930s. The film then enjoyed a triumphant reception at its premiere in March 1945, just two months before Ve Day, when it helped assert the indomitable spirit of French culture and restore national pride.

The Nazi regime forbade direct reference to the war or any currently controversial matter, so the setting is the Parisian theatre of the 1830s, which is given a Balzacian social scope and dramatic vigour. Pierre Brasseur and Jean-Louis Barrault play rival actors, one a Shakespearean star, the other a brilliant mime, both of them in love with the cool, graceful Arletty's much-sought-after courtesan, who's also admired by a charismatic criminal and an aristocrat.

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- Philip French

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