Made during the Nazi occupation of France, Marcel Carne’s romantic epic of the 19th-century theatre world is a life-affirming tribute to love, Paris and the stage.

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  • FUNAMBULE Alternative

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“Moving effortlessly from farce to tragedy, from delicate love scenes to outrageous buffoonery, Les Enfants remains the finest filmic achievement of Carné and Prévert, its impact scarcely dimmed by the years.”
Roy Armes, French Cinema, 1985

Based on a highly literate script by poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert, which draws on real-life figures of the 1820s and 1830s, Marcel Carné’s film is a lavish Dickensian drama set among the actors, criminals and aristocrats that orbit around a theatre on Paris’s so-called ‘Boulevard du Crime’.

Four men love the courtesan Garance (Arletty), most tragically the mime Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault), and their romantic intrigues play out in a backstage milieu lovingly recreated by set designer Alexandre Trauner. Trauner had worked with Carné on his classic series of 1930s ‘poetic realist’ dramas – including Drole de Drame (1937) and Hôtel du Nord(1938) – but as a Jew he was forced to work in secrecy on perhaps his grandest achievement. In 1995, the film was voted the greatest French film ever made by 600 industry professionals.

For a vibrant recreation of the stage world in Paris in the 1890s, the heyday of the Moulin Rouge, see Jean Renoir’s French Cancan (1955).

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