In production for two years, from occupation to post-WWII, with Jews in hiding, nazi collaborators and members of the French resistance all working together on the largest movie set in French history. Carne was known for his poetic realist dramas and had collaborated with writer Jacques Prevert before on Port of Shadows, Daybreak and Les Visiteurs du soir. The music stays in the background where it belongs (unlike many American 1940’s movies), quality editing and camerawork that rarely draw attention, and an amazing (especially for nazi-occupied France) art and production design team. A massive hit, and one of the most universally loved movies ever. More importantly, Katy liked it.

Girish’s Senses of Cinema entry on the film is short and excellent. Rough character sketches: “The film follows the Garbo-like Garance and the four men in her life: moonstruck mime Baptiste; philandering thespian Frederic Lemaitre; murderer-dandy Lacenaire and the wealthy, loveless count Edouard.”

Garance (Arletty, one side of the Daybreak love-triangle) is the center of the film, loved (in their own way) by four men. She meets the criminal off and on, begins to fall for the mime, ends up sleeping with the actor, then goes away to live with the count. It’s all less sordid than it sounds from stringing it into a single sentence like that.

Garance, first discovered as a sideshow beauty attraction:

Baptiste is the mime, played by actual mime Jean-Louis Barrault (the poet in La Ronde, later in some strange ones like Venom and Eternity and Chappaqua). He starts as a street performer doing free shows in front of the Funambules, berated by his more esteemed father, and ends as the people’s favorite entertainer, the Chaplin of his time.

Lemaitre is the actor (Pierre Brasseur, sinister psychologist of Head Against the Wall, below-right in his Othello blackface). He gets his break on stage in a lion costume at Baptiste’s Funambules, and works his way up to headlining Shakespeare plays at the “high” theater down the street. Lemaitre is a friendly fellow, though kind of insufferable about his own talent and ambition. Highlight is when he provokes a duel against the authors of a play which he self-reflexively destroyed onstage.

Lacenaire, thief and murderer, is Marcel Herrand, who specialized in playing “the high-class, scene-stealing villain,” played Fantomas in ’47 and the king in Fanfan la Tulipe.

The Count of Montray, who lures Garance away but never marries her (because she must remain free), is Louis Salou (uncredited in The Devil’s Hand), not a major presence, though he does have a duel scene with Lacenaire.

Pierre Renoir, Jean’s older brother and star of Night at the Crossroads, is Jericho, who moves between characters, a thief/fence/salesman/hobo. In the original draft, gentle Baptiste was to kill Jericho in the street, distraught at having lost Garance.

Natalie (Maria Casares, Death Herself in Cocteau’s Orpheus) marries Baptiste after Garance goes away with the count. In the second half they have a five-year-old son, though she knows that Baptiste would still leave her for Garance if he could.

Avril, Lacenaire’s henchman (Fabien Loris), is a threatening-looking presence, though Lacenaire himself performs the violence, which makes Avril squeamish.

Silk Thread, a fake blind guy (actually a gem appraiser with above-average sight) who befriends Baptiste – played by Gaston Modot, gamekeeper in Rules of the Game.

Baptiste’s landlady (at one point also Lemaitre and Garance’s landlady), along with Jericho, is one of the untrustworthy snitches in the film, a rare veiled reference to the current occupation of France.

Hyperactive director of the Funambules (and Natalie’s father) is Marcel Peres, who appeared in the sequel to Herrand’s Fantomas.

More from Senses:

The dreamlike passions and fragile sensitivity of Baptiste the mime form a strong contrast to the loud and blustery Frederic, who booms, “I will die from silence like others die from hunger and thirst”. Yet, while Frederic later achieves fame as an actor-star on the boulevard, the common folk are drawn to Baptiste and his delicate stories wrapped in the gauze of pantomime. … The amoral and dissolute Lacenaire writes farces which remain unperformed and unread. He ends up mounting a real-life assassination with the loving detail of a theatrical production. After the meticulous murder of the Count, the murderer waits calmly after the “performance” for the arrival of the police. The Count’s open contempt of theatre (“I don’t like this Monsieur Shakespeare: his debased violence, and his lack of decorum”) co-exists with a passionate bent for casual killing in the name of honor – thanks to that old tradition, the duel. Thus, theatre weaves its thread intimately into the fabric of every life we witness in the film.

A complex and tragic character, Garance’s easy devotion to the fleeting passions of love is innocent yet destructive; her flighty nature brings her a succession of moments filled with pleasure, yet the comfort of love eludes her. At the end of the film, when Baptiste runs into the carnival crowd, attempting unsuccessfully to catch up with the departing Garance, he is swallowed up by the “audience”, he is one with them, unable to be anything other than what they are. We have grown accustomed to seeing him in the privileged space of the stage, gazed upon by the admiring audience, straining forward silently in their seats. We are not ready for this fall from the rarefied spotlight of the stage to the bustling anarchy of the oppressively celebratory carnival crowd. It is a descent from artifice to reality.

Tidbits from B. Stonehill’s commentary on the first half:

Carne used Murnau tricks on the exteriors, constructing sets with diminishing size to give a feeling of greater depth, using small coaches filled with dwarfs in the background.

All four of the male leads were based on real historical figures – Lacenaire and Baptiste were actually on trial for murder at the same time. The actor who played Baptise suggested the film to Prevert and Carne.

From the beginning, when Garance is falsely accused for stealing a watch (in fact Lacenaire took it): “Now Baptiste surprises everybody by saying that he saw what happened, and he will now use his art to explain what he saw. In addition to being on its own a great work of art, Baptiste’s performance offers an allegory of his art can liberate a captive from tyranny. As Children of Paradise was being made under the watchful eye of the nazi authorities, Prevert and Carne could not risk any overt allusions to the political situation of the day, which is why so many of the films of this period are costume dramas and period pieces. But skillful allegory could keep the truth hidden, yet hint at its shape.”

Prevert was friends with cubist-innovators Picasso and Georges Braque. “Braque’s influence can be found in the presence of cubism in this movie’s asthetic. A cubist collage contains multiple perspectives on a central subject. In a sense, then, Children of Paradise is a cubist portrait of Garance, including as it does, how the public sees her in a circus tent, how Lacenaire sees her as his guardian angel, how Baptiste is smitten by her as a poetic ideal, how Frederique has seen her as a potential conquest…”

“But why should there be a difference between my dreams and my life?,” demands Baptiste. The film, which after all acts out some of its makers more cinematic dreams, would seem to confirm Baptiste’s demand. But not really, when you look more closely at this scene. Baptiste says, “je vous aime, Garance.” Yes, technically that means “I love you,” but he is using the formal form of address, “vous” instead of “tu,” the intimate form, as in the more natural “Je t’aime.” It’s not that Baptise is ungrammatical, it’s that Prevert, the poet who created him, is showing us that Baptiste has put Garance on a pedestal, and the very grammar of his “I love you” dramatizes that distance he’s put between them.

Baptiste surely has Garance all to himself, but he flees her bedroom. “Until now, Baptise’s idealism has seemed noble and indeed beautiful to us. Now we see that it is something he had better grow out of. Like Shakespeare’s heroes, the clearly-drawn characters of this film are great and likeable, but they are also deeply flawed. What kind of love story is it where the hero runs away from the embrace of the heroine? A love story where the obstacles are psychological and spiritual, not material, and that’s exactly what this clever poet and this artful filmmaker have in mind.”

Funny, I watched Foolish Wives and Children of Paradise the same week, each at the time the most expensive film ever made in its country.

C. Affron commentates the second half. “Frederique, whose ambition is to be a great tragic actor, is often involved in comic action. Baptiste, the mime who is supposed to make his audience laugh, is the serious one, on-stage and off.”

Terry Gilliam: “Watching it, I’m amazed at how much I’ve stolen from it.”

This was pretty incredible. Nude man in asylum thinks he’s a monkey. Flashback to when he was a young boy in a false mustache in the circus, watching a tattooed hottie force a deaf-mute girl to walk a burning tightrope. The boy’s mom is chief priestess at the santa sangre temple, which is torn down after being disavowed by the church, claiming the armless woman they worship is not a saint. Later she catches her awful drunken husband with the tattooed lady, and he cuts off her arms then kills himself, and the young mime tightrope walker is driven away from the traumatized boy.

Then after that first 45 minutes, the unthinkable happens: the movie got boring. Later I changed my mind about this, figure it just changed mood and speed and I wasn’t able to follow along, because retracing the story through the million screenshots I took, it sure doesn’t look boring. Anyway, now the boy and his armless mom have a stage act where he hides behind her, being her arms, imagining himself invisible. A bunch of people, including the tattooed woman and a cross-dressing wrestler, get brutally murdered – mother commanding son to kill with his/her hands. He hooks up with his midget best friend from the circus, who may have never existed. Only when he finds the mime girl does he stand up to his mother (and stab her to death), then he and the girl walk outside to start a new life together. No just kidding – they walk outside to find themselves surrounded by police.

Too old to play the young lead himself, Alejandro has his son Axel play the lead, with younger son Adan as young Axel, Blanca Guerra (also in Walker) as his mother and Guy “Dean’s brother” Stockwell as his father. It’s possibly the most coherent Jodorowsky movie I’ve seen, a true horror bursting with ideas and excellently filmed. I hope all the dead or dying animals were just special-effects this time.

D. Lim (who also makes a howler mistake, calling La Cravate a lost film years after it was rediscovered and issued on DVD):

Psycho is hardly the only cinematic influence on Santa Sangre. The circus grotesquerie suggests Fellini, though Tod Browning’s big-top movies Freaks and The Unknown are perhaps even more relevant. James Whale’s The Invisible Man is glimpsed on the television at one point. Also apparent is the lurid imprint of the film’s producer and co-writer Claudio Argento, brother of schlock-horror maestro Dario. But for all its sundry inspirations, Santa Sangre never seems derivative. Jodorowsky’s anything-goes alchemy has a cumulative power, as does the documentary energy of his location photography. It’s a movie bursting with life — interrupted frequently by processions and pageants, shot in actual slums and red-light districts.

You can’t tell from the dim screenshot that this is a white bird rising from an open grave:

Allures (1961, Jordan Belson)
I don’t know Belson very well, but this reminds me of my favorite parts of Norman McLaren and Len Lye, abstract animation set to music. Not frenetic, slow swirls and twirls, overlapped colored light patterns set to sparse music with dark electronic manipulation (composed by Belson and Oscar-nom musician/humorist Henry Jacobs). Must see again.
Allures (c) Jordan Belson

Finger-Fan (1982, Linda Christanell)
Austrian title is FINGERFÄCHER so I thought I’d get something racy for my lunch hour, but no, we’ve got some hands fanning out some fabric on a table… a finger-fan. Synopsis says “objects tell a random story – objects are bearers of obsessions-issuing energy as fetishes,” which might be badly translated or it might not… with the avant-garde it is hard to tell. Camera shoots some objects and photographs, a mirror re-directs part of the frame, there are some basic stop-motion and optical effects, and I remain unimpressed but lightly amused.

La Cravate (1957, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Glad it was short, I couldn’t have taken much more of that accordian score. Goofy mimes swap heads at the head-swap shop while a guy with a silly tie tries to land a girl. Strong, bright colors. I guess the concept of swapping heads can be kind of dark, but otherwise this is like a kid’s fairytale compared to El Topo. Fun movie.

The House With Closed Shutters (1910, DW Griffith)
A Dixie-loyal young girl runs a message to the confederate front lines after her supposed-to-be-messenger brother comes home drunk and afraid. When she’s killed (because she was playing like a kid in no man’s land), their mother covers it up by acting like her son was killed and forbidding her “daughter” to ever leave the house or open the shutters. Decades later his old friends walk by the house, he swings the shutters open and dies from the shock.

Dead guy on chair (left) while his mother orders the friends to leave

Suspense. (1913, Lois Weber & Philips Smalley)
After the servant quits and leaves the key under the mat, a vagabond takes the opportunity to enter the house, eat a sandwich and stab the woman and her baby to death with a knife. Or he would – but she calls her husband who races home from work in a stolen car followed closely by the cops (who, as cops do in silent movies, shoot their guns constantly not worrying about the casual damage they might cause – not to mention that it hardly seems fair to shoot a guy dead for stealing a car). Worth watching for the titular suspense, and the reaction of the guy whose car the husband stole when he finally catches up and sees the wife & baby safe: a big “well whattaya know” shrug to camera and a pat on the husband’s back. Co-director Weber played the wife.

Sweet split-screen:

Return of Reason (1923, Man Ray)
Whirling carnival lights at night, nails and tiny beads exposed directly on the film, a tic-tac-toe structure twirling on a string, all in stark black and white. Ends with negative image of a topless woman with psychedelic light patterns on her body.

The Starfish (1928, Man Ray)
A reputedly beautiful woman is shown behind distorting glass. A man holds a starfish in a jar. Terrifying close-up of starfish. Mirrors, split-screens and superimpositions. This is nice – how come poets don’t make movies anymore? Adaptation of a poem by Robert Desnos.



Emak-Bakia / Leave Me Alone (1926, Man Ray)
Twirling, swirling light patterns, spinning prisms, a girl with painted eyelids (paging Mr. Cocteau), broken dice, a tad of stop motion. The notes say Ray uses ‘all the tricks that might annoy certain spectators,’ and eighty years later he has annoyed me. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many of his movies in a row. I’d seen no films by Man Ray, then poof, I’ve seen half of them. Good stuff.


Oooh look, her painted lids are half-closed so you can see all four eyes:

The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (1928, Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkapich)
Far and away the greatest of these shorts. Intense shadowy miniatures interspersed with close-up photography of actors tells the story of a young hopeful actor defeated by the ruthless Hollywood star system. After he dies, he rises to heaven, where there is always open casting. A predecessor to Mulholland Dr.? Incredible-looking homemade film, very expressionist-influenced. Florey went on to direct 60+ features before moving to television, Vorkapich edited montage sequences for Hollywood films in the 30’s, and assistant cinematographer Gregg Toland shot Citizen Kane.



Rhythmus 21 (1921, Hans Richter)
“generally regarded as the first abstract animated film”, wow! Squares of light and dark get bigger/smaller, more complex patterns start to appear, pretty slow movement, never gets outrageously intricate, but if it’s the first film of its kind, it’s a great start.