Marcel Carne’s 1945 film, Les Enfants Du Paradis, is set in the Parisien theatre of the 1840s, a world teeming with “hucksters and aristocrats, thieves and courtesans, pimps and seers”. It’s an extraordinary and tragic tale about the pain of unrequited love. It is a tribute to Paris and to the stage, and is considered a masterpiece of French cinema.*
What is truly remarkable however, is the condition under which Les Enfants Du Paradis was made. It was shot in Paris and Nice during the Nazi occupation, and some of the crew (including the designer and composer) were incognito Jews on the run, while others were Resistance fighters using the production as cover for their activities. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, director Carne was forced by the authorities to hire pro-Nazi collaborators as extras.
Some of the crew then, were literally working in a life or death situation – for they would surely have been executed had their true identities been discovered – and yet they still managed to employ their creative skills and contribute toward the making of a film which is widely regarded as one of the finest in the history of cinema.
We, today, will never have to face similar pressures and distractions in our work. In fact, what are the pressures and distractions? Auditioning for a part we actually want? Getting behind on a little bit of rent? Memorizing lines? A faulty internet connection? Not getting our 8 hours sleep? The room isn’t at the right temperature? Running out of coffee …. ? Or any of the other myriad excuses we come up with to not get on with our work, to not commit to the scene, to not work on that script.
Whenever we think it’s impossible to get on with our work because of some supposed pressure or distraction, it is worth reminding ourselves about those crew members on Les Enfants Du Paradis.
*In 2012, Les Enfants De Paradis came 73rd in Sight And Sound’s Critics Poll of the greatest films of all time.