Léonce Perret: L’enfant de Paris

L’enfant de Paris
British version: The Child of Paris
R: Léonce Perret. B: Léonce Perret. K: Georges Specht. D: Suzanne Privat, Émile Keppens, Louis Leubas, Marc Gérard, Maurice Lagrenée, René Navarre (?). P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1913
Print: Cinémathèque française
Engl. titles

“Whatever you do now that you think is new was already done in 1913.” (Martin Scorsese)

“1913 was a year renowned for its various contributions to the film industry. It was in that year that many highly influential films came to be released, and these included titles such as the first German Expressionist film The Student of Prague, proto-thriller Suspense, and Ingeborg Holm which brought about changes in Swedish society. But there was one particular film in 1913 that far surpassed them all; one which was ahead of its time but has unfortunately been left in the shadows of the Silent Film Era by many people. That film is The Child of Paris. (…) Like a roman-feuilleton (political sections of French newspapers consisting of literature and criticism), The Child of Paris is complete with depictions of class struggles and social divisions in a society with patriarchy and the presence of the bourgeois. The Child of Paris is, however, by no means an outright and blatant political film. Rather, it was simply a traditional melodrama of its time in which depictions of the working class were prevalent in cinema. That being said, the film’s merits lies in the way it sets out to present its story by utilizing techniques that were ahead of its time. With vertical and through-the-wall camera movements as well as shots like alternating POVs, cut-ins, superimpositions and high angle exterior shots, The Child of Paris created a visual language of storytelling that would go on to be employed by future filmmakers.”
Haru in Letterboxd

This film is more than just Fantômas-by-the-seaside though, being an almost unprecedented two hours in length and proving not only worthy of its extensive running time – largely – but chock full of inventive and entertaining composition and narrative drive. You find glimpses of cinema-to-come in many shorter films from the period but there are few that I’ve seen that are as likeable and logical as this one. It helps that director Léonce Perret also wrote and that this is not an attempt to compress a novel or expand a play – it is a composition purely for cinematic exposition. At some points it appears a little too deliberate – man climbs into house, walks down a shadowy corridor and searches rooms… but this isn’t Liam Neeson chasing down euro-criminals in cut-up cine-short hand, it’s a man going through the steps in real time… well almost: you soon realise the cutting and directoral finesse already involved even if it’s almost invisible to the jaded modern eye. These scenes manage to build a genuine tension aided by the unpredictability of the vintage pacing.”

“Possibly the first feature film that took two hours without giving a dead minute back – the story skillfully exploits every act, throws the viewer from one situation to the other and constantly balances the pacing with several technical quirks and masterful tableaux filming. A typical example of the many truly overlooked works of early film history – as underrated as they come, from Léonce Perret’s sound (albeit silent) direction to the often awe-inspiring cinematography by George Specht and the memorable Maurice Lagrenée as Bosco, the character who unexpectedly becomes the film’s bittersweet protagonist halfway in.”
Arbogast Video Theatre in Letterboxd

“The sleuth Bosco uses high technology, like Professor Williams in Le mystère des roches de Kador. He sends a telegram, and takes a ride on a train. One of the most exciting, heartening things in the second half of L’Enfant de Paris is seeing the lower class Bosco do all the things that had been denied him due to poverty. It is thrilling to see him break through and send a telegram, something he has probably never done before in his life. In 1913 telegrams were high tech. It is like a poor person today using the Internet for the first time. Bosco is completely successful, too. Unlike what skeptics might say, the working class Bosco is plenty smart enough to take part in society and use technology. He just has lacked the money to do so.”
Mike Grost

“Most of the movie is edited in sequence, with each scene playing out before moving on to the next one, although there is some cross-cutting in the sequences when Bosco follows the Graduate and calls in the police. The real strength of the movie, however, is the photography by Georges Specht. There are a number of interesting backlit scenes, as well as some shots which are much darker than we usually see in movies from the time, including the ‘dark’ themed crime movies of Louis Feuillade. The use of mise-en-scene establishes the contrast between the comfortable and opulent home of the family, and the squalid conditions of the cobbler and his underworld associates.”

>>> Perret’s Le roman d’un mousse on this site

>>> Léonce Perret