ENFANT DE PARIS, L'
(Leonce Perret, 1914, France, BW)
L'enfant de Paris 1914
Das Kind von Paris
Barnet fra Paris
Runtime: 124 minutes
Director: Léonce Perret
Writer: Léonce Perret
Stars: Léonce Perret, Louis Leubas, Maurice Lagrenée
The young daughter of an army captain missing in action runs away from school and is kidnapped by Parisian lowlifes. When the kidnapper flees to Nice with the child, the kind-hearted employee of one of his accomplices sets off in pursuit.
A film shot as a serial, searching for a real cinematographic form, far from its fairy origins. Beautiful trip to Nice where you can feel Perret's joy to film. The walk of Bosco-Maurice Lagrénée in the city and on the Promenade des Anglais, the triumph of the return of Captain de Valen-Emile Keppens from the colonies, the poor orphan Marie-Laure, every thing recalls the poetic realism that will be in fashion later in the French cinema, even if there is a reactionnary background in L'enfant de Paris. It makes us think of Duvivier, Carné, Vigo already.
"L'Enfant de Paris" is an exceptionally well-photographed 1913 silent film that has been included in the New York Film Festival partly because it was a personal favorite of the late Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinemathèque Françcaise. Directed by Leonce Perret, who made or appeared in an estimated 600 films (21 of them in America) before he died in 1935, the movie tells the story of an almost inhumanly sweet little girl who is kidnapped by scoundrels.
The story is unexceptional, and so is Perret's general approach. But his technical sophistication is quite impressive, particularly during a long sequence in which the kidnapper has the good taste to cart his captive off to Nice. "L'Enfant de Paris" is well worth seeing on the strength of its location footage alone. As the film begins, the little girl is rich and happy, safe in the bosom of her loving family. Half an hour later her father, a soldier, has disappeared in battle, and her mother has died of grief. The sweet little girl is sent to an orphanage, where the other girls laugh at her and the teachers take her favorite doll away.
When she escapes from the orphanage and faints as a result of her exertions, a crook comes along to steal her gold locket, which of course contains pictures of her poor, lost parents. As an afterthought, he steals her, too. The little girl, who is carried through the film like a human suitcase, winds up in the predictable den of iniquity, living with a drunken shoemaker and his hunchbacked assistant. The assistant falls in love with the little girl, rather unwholesomely, and eventually returns her to her father, who is, of course, not dead after all. In movies as treacly as this one, fathers who disappear in battle seldom are.
The little girl, Suzanne LeBret, has a strangely middle-aged face and an acting range that allows for little more than her extending her arms joyfully or staring tragically at the floor. The crook, played by Louis Leubas, is more interesting, because he oozes crookedness from every pore, as do his very amusing henchmen. "L'Enfant de Paris" has no dialogue subtitles, only a few printed telegrams and newspaper articles, and would seemingly lend itself to overacting of the most painful kind. Fortunately, many of the performances are as unexpectedly forthright as the stunning pre-World War I landscapes.
Léonce Perret was one of those early pioneers of film whose name
has faded from the public consciousness but whose legacy endures as part
of the foundation stone of cinema. One of the most prolific and
inventive filmmakers of his generation, he put his name (either as an
actor or director, often both) to over five hundred films and was a
significant player in the development of the language of cinema in its
early years. His main claim to fame is that he was one of the
first directors (probably the first working for a major film studio) to
insist upon crediting the director and his actors on the film,
something which had been fiercely resisted by producers fearful that it
might create a 'star system' similar to that found in the theatre.
Perret's importance is further bolstered by the fact that he was the
man who directed Gaumont's first feature-length film, L'Enfant de Paris.
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