Arletty A Guilty Passion (2015)
Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) is regarded as the greatest French film ever made and, according to critic David Shipman, found in its star one of the screen’s few goddesses. Yet by the time the film was released, Arletty was in prison for her “horizontal collaboration” with a German Officer. “My heart is French, but my ass is international” she is reported to have said, and this biopic is at its most successful when portraying her quick wit and insouciance. The passion, guilty or not, is sorely lacking.
The contrast is apparent from the opening scene when Arletty meets Hans Jürgen Soehring at her birthday party. The double entendres concerning invading Free zones and being occupied may bring a wry smile, but that soon dissipates once the conversation shifts to stars gazing lovingly at stars. Then before you can say “Atmosphere! Atmosphere!”, Arletty and Hans have fallen madly in love, much to the consternation of the French Resistance, the German Army, and Arletty’s lesbian lover, Antoinette. Meanwhile, the long production of Les Enfants du Paradis drags on with the actress finding parallels between her life and that of her character, Garance.
In her second role as a star of French cinema, having previously portrayed Brigitte Bardot in Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, Laetitia Casta appropriates Arletty’s style of walking and talking. Though this may prove bothersome for those unacquainted with late actress, it is faithful to the source. Ken Duken is given the difficult task of playing the romantic lead while strutting about in a Nazi uniform. Despite many opportunities to show he is one of the good Germans, Duken cannot quite overcome his character’s sense of entitlement. Amongst the supporting cast, Marc Citti impresses as screenwriter Jacques Prévert.
Less impressive is the musical score which intrudes upon each dramatic moment with much sturm und drang, detracting from scenes involving French Resistance plots and emotional breakdowns and turning a Nazi interrogation into a scene akin to the Zucker Brothers Top Secret! All it needed was a bit more “Atmosphere! Atmosphere!”
Though Arletty and Hans did meet at an event organised by her friend Josée de Chambrun, it was not for her birthday party, Instead the two met at a private dinner and became reacquainted at a concert two weeks later.
Biopic contains many scenes depicting the production of Les Enfants du Paradis as well as a few recreations, including Beauty revolving in a barrel and Garance’s encounter with Baptiste’s child.