Les Enfants du Paradis

March 2, 2012 | By French Culture

Voted "Best French Film" of the last century in a poll of French critics and professionals, Marcel Carné’s classic tale of a notorious actress/courtesan and the four men who pine for her in 1830s Paris, Les Enfants du Paradis, was restored by Pathé and released in the United States. At this occasion, Antonin Baudry greeted Pathé and Jérôme-Seydoux Pathé foundation at the Cultural Services with the following speech.

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

I am delighted to welcome the film industry and all cinema lovers tonight for the American release of a restored masterpiece: Marcel Carné’s “Children of Paradise”.

I would like to start by saying that this year’s Oscars exemplify the love story between French and American cinema. The two most prized films are “Hugo”, an American film about Méliès and made in Paris, and “The Artist”, a French film about American silent cinema, made with love, in the US. This is quite wonderful and heart-warming.

And thanks to “The Artist”, silent black & white films may become fashionable again. So, will people be ready to see a black and white talky? I really hope so, because Jacques Prévert’s beautiful dialogues is what makes this film a true masterpiece of “poetic realism”.

I would like to congratulate Pathé and the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, which is represented tonight by President Sophie Seydoux (to whom I extend my warmest greetings), as well as our good friends at Janus Films, the US distributor, for their wonderful work.

Thanks to all of them, we will soon have the great opportunity to see a digitally restored version of “Children of Paradise”, whose prints have been too damaged to be screened for the past two decades.

In New York, the film will start its theatrical run on March 9th at Film Forum, one of the city’s premier venues for classic films. And for those lucky to have already purchased tickets (I hear the screening is sold out) “Children of Paradise” will screen tomorrow night at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. There, the film is the centrepiece of “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema”, New York’s annual French film festival created by the Film Society and Unifrance. I am so pleased that the French delegation for the festival is here with us tonight.

I should mention that for the Festival’s 17th edition and for the first time, we celebrate the creation of “Rendez-Vous +”, a series devoted to documentaries and classics. We are glad to see that “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema”, our baby, so to speak, develops each year and gains ambition, energy and enthusiasm.

And now ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you the story of a film legend.

Once upon a time, in a far away country called France, a filmmaker (Marcel Carné) and a poet (Jacques Prévert) ran into the famous actor Jean-Louis Barrault on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

In those days it was war and the horizon was very bleak for artists.

Carné and his loyal friend Prévert were short on inspiration for the subject of their next movie. But on that day, out of the blue, Jean-Louis Barrault suggested that they depict the life of the famous nineteenth century mime Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Debureau.

And so one thing led to another and this unexpected meeting led to one of the most extraordinary movies of the twentieth century: “Children of Paradise”.

“Children of Paradise” is a film legend in all respects.

Not only for the wonder of its story: an unforgettable romance focusing on the colourful theater world of Paris, in the 1830s. The story of a beautiful courtesan, embodied by the stupendous Arletty, shared between four lovers.

But the making of the film itself is worthy of the resounding praise. Its tumultuous two-year production started during the Nazi Occupation of France, and was finished in liberated Paris just after D-day.

For the making of the movie, Nazi collaborators, imposed by the Vichy administration, worked side-by-side with unnoticed French resistants, using the film as daytime cover. And Marcel Carné secretly hired Jewish set designer Alexandre Trauner, and composer Joseph Kosma for his production. This is a quite an achievement!

Now, what about the film’s posterity?

In 1956, François Truffaut wrote in “Les Cahiers du Cinéma”: « Marcel Carné never knew how to evaluate a script nor choose a topic. For years, we were shown Jacques Prévert films translated into images by Marcel Carné.” But in 1984, Truffaut confessed to Carné that he would have given up all his movies for “Children of Paradise”.

Is “Children of Paradise” the greatest film ever? A jury of French film critics, journalists and historians said so in 1995, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of cinema.

Very soon, thanks to the wonderful work that has been done, you will be able to judge for yourself.

Thank you.

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