Pierre Brasseur

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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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Port Of Shadows Review

The opening scene of the 1938 French crime classic Port of Shadows takes place at night on a gorgeously fog-bound stretch of highway 12 miles outside the port city of Le Havre. A truck speeds down this tree-lined road, the only sign of life on a moonless night; in its headlights a hitchhiker in a soldier's uniform looms up on the wet road suddenly, and our adventure is begun.

The style is poetic realism, but viewers will be forgiven for confusing it with film noir, which followed a few years later in America. The "realism" can be hard to spot amid the clouds of man-made fog, street sets built in forced perspective, and heavily stylized exteriors; the word here refers less to the look of the film than to the fact that its characters were criminals and its "heroes" of dubious moral standing. (Contrast the outsiders of Port of Shadows with screen contemporaries such as, say, Astaire and Rogers, done in up in evening wear, dancing the night away at a glittering Art Deco nightclub, and the difference becomes clear.) The "poetry" figures into both the exquisitely evocative feel of the film and its writer's and director's conviction that even ordinary lives - that of their deserter hero, his licentious young love, a suicidal artist - sometimes traffic, however transiently, in the sublime.

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