Garance (Arletty) is beautiful yet elusive with a string of men after her affections. With three ne'er do wells, the viewer is left rooting for her to choose the theatre mime, Baptiste (Barrault). Sadly with other lovers getting in the way, the two say goodbye until they meet by chance several years later.
Marcel Carne's wonderful film can barely be contained on the screen bursting is it with the stuff of life on the Boulevard Du Crime in 19th Century Paris, a life so vibrant that it threatens to spill from every frame and carry on an existence of its own elsewhere. And that this much-chronicled black-and-white masterpiece should still serve such a giddying feast for the senses is all the more extraordinary when you consider it was first released in 1945, returning here in all its former glory with a new print and restored soundtrack undimmed by the passing of time.
Made in two parts and screened complete with a 10-minute interval Carne's story is, broadly, a meditation on the nature of art and life in a world of theatre and crime where one becomes imperceptibly entwined with the other. At its heart revolves a universal tale of unrequited love in which a motley cast of thesps and ne'er-do-wells Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), a murderous dandy; Frederick Lemaitre (Brasseur), a classical actor; the wealthy Count Of Monteray (Louis Salou); and, most charmingly, Baptiste Dubureau, a famous mime woo Arletty's exotic, enigmatic whore who, inevitably, leaves breaking hearts in her wake.
Farcical and tragic, this taps into life's rich seam with a rare delicacy and insight, paying such lavish attention to detail that even at over three hours it's a delicious indulgence that lasts not a moment too long.
Although in black and white, this film still remains as sumptuous as anything in color. With its charming story and varied yet equally intriguing characters it is clear to see why it remains such an enduring classic.