Viewers may also be interested to know that three of the four lovers of Garance (Frederick LeMaitre, the actor; Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Debureau, the mime; and Pierre Francois Lacenaire, the criminal) as well as the Funambules theatre and certain of the events in the storyline, are based upon historical fact. The character Garance is more archetypal--love in the eye of each beholder.
Also, both of the male leads, Jean-Louis Barrault (Baptiste) and Pierre Brasseur (Frederick), strongly identified with the historical personages they were playing--so much so that they admitted they felt they were living rather than acting their roles.
For the curious, Jill Forbes' book, Les Enfants du Paradis (published by BFI Classics and available through Amazon), provides a great deal of fascinating information about the making and meanings of this film.
This is one of the most perfect movies ever made; if the audience is willing to shelve, just for a moment, their contemporary notions of beauty and can let themselves believe that the object of all men's desire in this movie is, in fact, stunningly beautiful. That was the only hurdle I faced watching this movie on the strength of nothing but its reputation; once I allowed my factory-set notions of beauty to be swept away by the power of the film, everything fell into place.
Amazingly, I had already seen a segment of the film unwittingly -- one of the pantomimes, excerpted at a National Gallery touring exhibit on clowns in art. I had been spellbound by it then, and had forgotten the name of the movie it was attached to, and was delighted to discover that the five-minute excerpt that I had found so brilliant and beautiful was accompanied by another nearly three hours (!!) of equally wonderful work.
I've never had a movie of this length go by so quickly. There is no second-act lag. There is no feeling of a grind to the finish at the end, which is rare for somebody of my limited attention span. Everything fits together like clockwork -- plot, characters, direction, music, sets, costumes -- so perfectly that the thrill of seeing how the film works is as great as the narrative itself.
Every once in a while you finish a movie and not only discover that you liked it, you feel compelled to make everyone you know watch it. Tally ho.