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Children Of Paradise Review

People (mostly French people, I presume) have called Children of Paradise a French Gone With the Wind. It's equally epic in scope, but good luck following along. Filled with the haughty arrogance of 1940s France, even the title of Children of Paradise is something of an over-your-head joke. The gaggle of characters hardly live in paradise -- they populate the "Boulevard of Crime," working as mimes, thieves, or hookers. And they're all in love -- four of them, in fact -- havin fallen for "actress" (read: prostitute) Garance (French actress Arletty, way ahead of her time with the one-word name thing).

The rivalries over Garance become so fierce that a man actually ends up nearly killed. That's the entire first half of the movie (which runs a dizzying 3 hours, 10 minutes). Of Garance's lovers, we are meant to root for the mime (Jean-Louis Barrault) (and there are endless scenes of pantomime), but in part two, we find he and Garance both trapped in loveless marriages to other people. They eventually meet again. Tragedy ensues. Three hours to reinvent Romeo and Juliet without any of the color.

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Mr. Hulot's Holiday Review

Director Richard Lester once famously described the 1953 Jacques Tati comedy Mr. Hulot's Holiday as the best movie ever made. Looking at Lester's work -- especially his classic A Hard Day's Night -- you can read Tati's influence all over it: it's there in the film's loose structure, casual running jokes, and rich supporting roles. But the closest homage Lester pays to Tati is in A Hard Day's Night tone: its gentle, humanist slapstick is very directly derived from that of Tati. Even in Chaplin, that quiet, radiant quality of Tati's finds no close screen equivalent. It set his films apart, and it's that quality -- together with Tati's oddball timing -- that renders his work unique.

Tati was France's most treasured screen comedian, and Mr. Hulot's Holiday is widely considered his masterpiece. His major films centered on his screen alter-ego, the goofy, accident-prone M. Hulot, who smoked a pipe, walked with a Groucho-like gait, and wore a signature trenchcoat long before that garment bore any relation to flashers or, later, gun-wielding teens. As a plot, Mr. Hulot's Holiday recounts this character's summer vacation at a seaside resort. But the plot, in Tati, is just a skeleton upon which the gags are hung, and in Holiday these gags occur with Naked Gun-like frequency.

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Mon Oncle Review

Very Good
We always hold it against the French that they love Jerry Lewis -- it's a valid complaint -- but their taste in homegrown screen comedians is light years better than their taste in imports, and their favorite there has always been Jacques Tati. In his best movies, Tati played a character named Monsieur Hulot, an awkward, likable bachelor invariably attired in a sporty hat and trenchcoat, who clenched a pipe in his teeth at all times and took an interest in anyone or anything that passed his way. For Tati, Hulot embodied all that was warm and human in his homeland: he frequented the kind of small café that Paris is famous for, bought food from vegetable carts, lived in a Mansard-roofed walk-up, and knew all his neighbors and all his neighbors' pets. In Hulot's France friendly dogs play the day away in packs, laundry hangs from balconies, and the girl downstairs has a taste for sweets.

But in 1958 there was another kind of France wending its way into the Old World, and in Mon Oncle ("my uncle") Hulot's young nephew lives there. Attained by crossing over a broken down fence, this French neighborhood is ultra-modern and its architecture is automated and inhumanly chic. The plot of Mon Oncle, almost in its entirety, is that the young nephew prefers his eccentric uncle's company to that of his mother, who makes a frantic practice of keeping up with the Joneses, or his father, who works (where else?) in a plastics plant. But, as with all Tati, the jokes are in the details and not in the story.

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