Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis)

Director Marcel Carné and scriptwriter Jacques Prévert, whose previous collaborations were the classics Port of Shadows and Daybreak, outdid themselves — and most of French cinema — with Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis), a sumptuous costumer set backstage in the theater world of mid-19th-century Paris. Outwardly, it’s about theater as life and life as theater, but really it’s all about love (what French movie isn’t?), as the eternal female (the radiant Arletty) is chased by four very different guys: a sweet, wimpy mime (Jean-Louis Barrault), an egomaniacal actor (Frédérick -Lemaître), a smug, sadistic Count (Louis Salou) and a thug criminal (Pierre Brasseur). Every segment of society is represented, as are photo-realistic portraits of theater performance in the 1830s.

The movie was produced during the Nazi occupation, and the filmmakers scrambled with Vichy censorship, money problems, sets that blew down in storms, intermittent electricity during shooting, and starving extras who stole the prop food before it could be photographed. Ace composer Joseph Kosma and four-star art director Alexandre Trauner, both Jewish, worked without credit to hide from the clutches of the Nazis. But the final product is the grandest of movies — tumultuously filled to the frame with a contemporary, nonjudgmental view of life that overflows with disappointments, tiny victories and abiding amour. 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday.
Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2012

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