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  • Writer's pictureJulia Sumzina

Les Enfants du Paradis. The poetic story on screen and on stage

There are stories which are fascinating for absolutely different kinds people from various generations. The poetic story by Jacques Prévert about the Parisian theatre of the first half of XIX century and the charming courtesan Garance, who was a lady love for four men is one of the most French and romantic plots I have ever seen. There is an interesting fact about the title: in French, “paradis” is the colloquial name for the gallery or second balcony in a theater, where poor people sat and viewed a play, responding to it in honest and very emotional way.

  • Mathieu Ganio as Baptiste, © Julia Sumzina

"I would give up all my films to have directed Children of Paradise". ~ François Truffaut Firstly, let's talk about the film. Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) was directed by Marcel Carné. It was made during the difficult period of French history of German nazi's occupation of France during World War II. The scenario was created by famous poet Jacques Prévert, who is considered as the person whose films formed part of the poetic realist movement in French cinema. In the setting of the 1820s and 1830s, we can see the relationships between Garance and the four men in love with her: a touching mime artist, a brave actor, a sneaky criminal and a noble aristocrat.

Some of the characters of Les Enfants du Paradis were based on the real people, for example, Baptiste Debureau (played by Jean-Louis Barrault in the film) – the main male character, was a Bohemian-French mime, who made the romantic image of a suffering Pierrot for the future generations. Real Baptiste (1796 – 1846) performed from 1816 to the year of his death at the Théâtre des Funambules, as it was shown in the story. The actor Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur) (1800 – 1876) was a famous French actor and playwright. And Pierre François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) (1803 – 1836) was a French murderer and poet, who after his death was widely popular as a literature character.

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) is known as one of the best films ever, it was nominated to an Oscar for best original screenplay in 1947.

This film was the base for the same titled ballet by José Martinez, premiered on 21st October 2008 in Palais Garnier, Paris. The decorations designed by Ezio Toffolutti and the costumes by Agnès Letestu in combitation with the music by Marc-Olivier Dupin make this ballet very beautiful romantic story in the fascinating theatrical atmosphere. There is also the show filmed by Paris Opera and available for watching on The love story and the intrigues were performed by the leading dancers of Paris Opera: Isabelle Ciaravola (Garance) and Mathieu Ganio (Baptiste) in the main roles, Karl Paquette (Frédérick Lemaître) and Benjamin Pech (Lacenaire).

  • Isabelle Ciaravola and Mathieu Ganio, © Julia Sumzina

Garance by Isabelle Ciaravola was amazingly feminine and magnetic in her grace, the ballerina made her heroine the hypnotic and sensual woman, who seemed unrealistically light and was very natural on the stage. The performance of Baptiste by Mathieu Ganio opened the young ¨etoile¨ with the high level of technique as an actor who can make the audience look at his character without a sigh and then go out with some tears in their eyes. His Baptiste is a touching and poetic person, a real Pierrot from the epoch of Romanticism but at the same time he is not an image, he is a person with his own passions, temper and vulnerability.

  • Isabelle Ciaravola and Mathieu Ganio, © Julia Sumzina

The performance happens not only on the stage: the public is greeted by jugglers and, during the intermission, there is a false theatrical representation of the death of Desdemona in Othello or the Moor of Venice, the play by William Shakespeare (scene given on the steps of famous Grand Staircase of the Opera Garnier).

The film and the ballet both are worth to be watched, compared and analyzed. Every spectator can find in this story something to think about and, surely, to admire. So let's get known with Les Enfants du paradis.

Text and illustrations: Julia Sumzina, @js_artsreview

Photo: Michel Lidvac

Video: Pathe

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