Masterpiece is hardly a strong enough word to describe this French import. Other Gallie efforts have been praised highly in the last decade, but none of them can possibly match the broad scope and multiple perfections of "Les Enfants," a product of the German Occupation which contains, among other things, a notable expression of the tragedy of spiritual frustration and isolation.
The chief plot of "Les Eufants" concerns the nebulous love affair of an unwordly mime, Baptiste, and a tarnished but not unattractive young lady named Garance. Around this powerfully developed theme lie constellations of characters and stories: the rise of Frederick, the Actor of the Age; the life and death of Garance's titled paramour; and glimpses into the lives of actors and criminals and others too numerous to describe.
What makes this indescribable pageant of midnineteenth century France become a great film is the acting of every one of its cast, principals or less, Jean-Louis Barrault turns in what is probably the great cinema performance of the decade as Baptiste. He is magnificent both as the frustrated dreamer of real life and as the master pantomimist whose inner thoughts are projected into his stage presentations.
As Garance Arletty is, first of all, overwhelmingly beautiful. And with a minimum of gesture and the subtlest of facial expression she gives a moving portrayal of the mysterious and unattainable woman who is the spring of every other character's action. The other parts are just as perfectly played.
"Les Enfants," originally a super-epie, has been cut to about half its original length for American release. Many of the cut scencs were as good as or better than the ones that are left. The chopping does not, however, prevent the American version of "Les Enfants" from being one of the most beautiful and most fascinating and most perfect films ever produced.