Children of Paradise (Criterion), Marcel Carné’s legendary epic of love, theater, and crime in 19th Century Paris, is a masterpiece of French cinema and one of the best loved films of all time. It’s been described as the “Gone With the Wind” of France, but that misses the point. This tragic romance, written by Carné’s longtime collaborator Jacques Prévert, is about the love of art and theater as much as human love. Jean-Louis Barrault plays mime Baptiste Debureau, Pierre Brasseur is actor Frederick Lemaitre, and Marcel Herrand the former criminal turned playwright Lacinaire, all real life characters thrown together in a fictional love quadrangle with the beautiful actress Garance (Arletty) and her (fictional) patron Count (Louis Salou). Forget that it’s three hours long; every moment bursts with love and passion, and the amazing Boulevard du Crime recreation bustles with the activity of street performers and pickpockets, con-men and cops, prostitutes and rubberneckers. An epic in every sense of the word, this soulful tribute to free France and the heart of art was, astoundingly, made in over the course of 18 months in the midst of the German occupation, and released in 1945, just two months after the Nazis were driven out.
Criterion originally released Children of Paradise on DVD almost ten years ago, but the film received an exhaustive restoration in France last year and Criterion has mastered the new DVD edition and the Blu-ray debut from this new restoration. Also new to this edition is 2010 documentary “Once Upon a Time: Children of Paradise” on the making of the film, the 1967 German documentary “The Birth of Children of Paradise” (which features interviews with members of the cast and crew) and a visual essay on the film’s design by film writer Paul Ryan. Carried over from the earlier release is the commentary (Brian Stonehill on Part One, Charles Affron on Part Two) and a video introduction by Terry Gilliam (“There was a time when poetry and big budgets seem to go hand in hand, and we don’t allow that anymore”). Also features a booklet with an essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew and excerpts from a 1990 interview with director Marcel Carné.