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Children of Paradise: The Criterion Collection

Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert's Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise) provides one of the cinema's most complete experiences. Forged in a tradition of quality by artisans versed in a lore and technology of moviemaking we see little of today, Children of Paradise is a film in which narrative, visual motifs, and perfect casting all work together to create a masterpiece that seems richer and deeper upon each repeated viewing. Anyone who enjoyed Moulin Rouge, and other similarly unrestrained films such as The Red Shoes will probably also love this timeless, theater-obsessed love story. Children of Paradise is set in the theater world of Paris in (presumably) 1830, along the Boulevard du Temple, nicknamed the "Boulevard du crime" for the sensational plays performed there. In this complex tale, there is no true central character, but rather four men who revolve around the light cast by Garance (Arletty), a performer who drifts from one carnivalesque gig that she doesn't really care about to another. The men are the aspiring actor Frédérick (Pierre Brasseur), the criminal Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), the mime Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), and the Count Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou), almost all modeled on historical figures. Though on the surface a great film in the impersonal tradition of quality like Gone with the Wind, Children of Paradise bears many radical narrative tricks. Though Carné, because of his personal orientation and his inclination towards big-budget movies with an emphasis on decor and performance, might seem on the surface the French version of George Cukor, he was actually a modernist, with several direct links to and influences on the French New Wave. Criterion's two-disc Children of Paradise offers a clean black-and-white full-frame transfer (1.33:1) from the restored print released in the late '80s, and further cleaned up digitally. Audio is in Dolby Digital 1.0 (which doesn't help much with Joseph Kosma's delighful score), but also from restored elements, with newly translated optional (though still not complete) English subtitles. The set features two highly informative audio commentaries Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron. Between these two tracks, the viewer gleans almost everything they need to know to enjoy the film in its historical context, and are models of what solid commentary tracks can be. Disc One also features a "video introduction" by Terry Gilliam and a brief restoration demonstration. Disc Two contains a reproduction of Jacques Pérvert's original film treatment; production designs by Alexander Trauner; a production stills gallery; extensive Carné and Prévert filmographies; and the contemporaneous U.S. theatrical trailer. Bundled into the case is a 26-page booklet containing an interview with director Carné conducted by Stonehill and derived from the Criterion Laserdisc (which Stonehill produced), cast bios and DVD credits, and an essay about the film and its production history by Peter Cowie. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—D. K. Holm

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