Serendipity and Les Enfantes Du Paradis

I had no major plans for today, the 14th of June 2006. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the MRT train I was riding seemed to be more sputtering than moving towards Quezon City. It seemed like a very tired long distance runner on its last leg burdened by a sack of rice on its back. Fortunately, the train was able to crawl its way towards the Shangrila Station before it gave up the ghost. The MRT driver announced some gibberish over the speakers. It took a while before the passengers realized that the train was going to stay put and it would be best for them to wait for the next train. However, at this point the platform was already filled up passengers also waiting for the next train. One look at the number of people agitated and waiting for the next train convinced me to go to the nearest mall, Shangri-La.

I was hoping to watch the Denzel Washington and Jodi Foster movie Inside Man. However, when I reached the ticket booth Inside Man was a no-show. Instead two cartoon films, the Omen film, and another Hollywood movie that I cannot remember for the moment. Fortunately, there was the French Film Festival “French Spring in Manila“  and each reserved seat selling for fifty pesos. What a bargain!

A few weeks ago I read some announcement about the French Film Festival but could not find any schedule nor of the line up. Even around the cinema premises there were not much information aboutthe festival except the billboard sign and a desk full of photocopied papers, which turned out to be the film schedule. The festival will run till the 18th of June,Sunday. And the movies that have been available for screening are Laissez-passer (Safe Conduct), The Raven, Clean, Le Parfum dela Dame Noir (Perfume of the Lady in Black), Les Loeurs Fachees (Me and My Sister), L’esquive, Nouvelle France (New France), Riviera, and Les Enfantes Du Paradis (Children of Paradise) - this was the one I watched.

It is quite refreshing to watch a film not from Hollywood. It is a change of pace. A breath of fresh air. To be fair I have not yet heard of this film before and it was only due to providence (a malfunctioning train and a crowded train platform) that I decided to watch a film. I was expecting to watch a recently produced film from France. Little did I know that this a film considered by many as one of the greatest films from France and in some circles described as France’s “Gone With the Wind”.

Alhough the French Gone With the Wind epithet seems yo hardly do justice to the film. It was shot during the 1940s while France was under the yoke of the Nazi’s and the Vichy Government. The mere fact that the movie in such a scale was completed during this time is amazing. It is said the starved extras stole the food on the set even before it was shot. The film is around three hours long and because of Nazi regulations limiting films to onlu ninety minutes the film was packaged as two movies, the “Le Boulevard du crime” (The Boulevard of Crime) and “L’Homme blanc” (The White Man).

The film’s story is set in Paris during the 1890s and revolves around a beautiful and strong-willed woman and four men ( her friends and lovers). The story spans six years and depicts the humor, irony, and tragedy of ill-fated affairs. All four men are based on famous personalities in France during that time a a famous actor, a well-renowned mime, a criminal mastermind, and a powerful rich nobleman. The woman who calls herself Garance is the catalyst that sets of the joy and pain in the lives of these individuals. The title of the film Children of Paradise refers to the punters or patrons of the theater who occupy the topmost seats in the house, these are the cheapest seats in the theatre. And since most of characters meet, live, and thrive in the theatre world the movie is populated generously with almost full act scenes of pantomine and plays that are entertaining and a sort or mirror of the story. Another nice thing about this movie is that all characters are not stereotyped. And this is a good thing because it (the movie) takes you on a ride to things unfamiliar or undiscovered. This film is an epic film, the stage and the set are equisite. It is said that in some cases to achieve the effect of grandness the film makers made use of small carriages drawn by dwarf horses and vertically-challenged individuals.

The film though seemed to have been built for different size screens than the ones they had at Shangri-La. There were times when you could not see the face or body of the actors. They must have used taller screens back then. Still movies like this were made to be viewed in cinema houses. No matter how big your home theatre system the only way you could enjoy this film is watch it in a movie house, with lights off and sitting in comfy chair. Watching old movies in a cinema house is an experience not to miss. It makes one wish that there would be a cinema or film house dedicated to showing a lot of these films. A few years ago I was able to watch the restored copy of Noli Me Tangere. Unfortunately, a year ago I heard the restored copy was in a state deterioration. Making things worse is the fact that we cannot get hold of the El Filibusterismo film, the person who owns the surviving reel of film refuses to sell it or is pricing the film too high (The story changes from person but the point is El Filibusterisimo is lost forver or will be.

A few years ago I was able to watch another French film from this period and the film was “Grand Illusion”. I like that film and I also liked this film. However, to compare them would be to do injustice to both. Each stand on their own merits.

Les Enfants Du Paradis/The Children of Paradise(1945)
Potential Films Prod Co: Pathé Prod: Raymond Borderie Dir: Marcel Carné Scr: Jacques Prévert Ph: Roger Hubert Ed: Henri Rust Art Dir: Alexander Trauner, Leon Barsacq, Raymond Gabutti Mus: Maurice Thiriet, Joseph Kosma. Cast: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault. Pierre Brasseur,Pierre Renoir, María Casares, Gaston Modot, Fabien Loris
Marcel Pérès, Louis Salou, et al.

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