It's been said that during wartime, audiences look to the movies for escapist entertainment, wishing to be transported into an artificial world far removed from their own. Produced on a massive scale during the German occupation and released shortly after WWII ended, Marcel Carné's masterpiece Children Of Paradise conjures just such a world, beginning with its opening scenes in 1820s Paris, which bustles with carnival delights and sumptuous eye candy. Often dubbed "the French Gone With The Wind" for its unprecedented scope and popularity, the film offered audiences a dream of liberty, but not without considering the attendant perils. Centered on a beautiful woman who embodies freedom by both giving love and keeping her heartsick suitors from possessing her, the story is laced with romantic melancholy, as passions are inflamed but never fully requited. In the larger picture, Children Of Paradise is the ultimate theater-as-life movie, rich in historical allusions past and present, a landmark production that overcame constant harassment by the Germans and stands as a key testament to the spirit of the French Resistance. But apart from mere dissertation fodder, the film remains an exemplary piece of popular entertainment, full of vibrancy and wit, with unforgettable characters and a delicate, bittersweet tone that considers their emotions in balance. Divided into two subtly differentiated parts, "The Boulevard Of Crime" and "The Man In White," Children Of Paradise refers to the poor people sitting in the cheap seats at the Theatre des Funambules, which literally plays to the rafters with little people, acrobats, jugglers, and other lowbrow hijinks. As the film opens, two future stars are clamoring for the footlights: Jean-Louis Barrault, a gifted mime for a street sideshow, and Pierre Brasseur, a charming actor who boldly predicts that Funambules will stage serious dramas like Shakespeare with his name on the marquee. In short order, they both fall in love with the ravishing Arletty, a woman who openly accepts their passions, but not exclusively, setting off powerful tremors of jealousy and heartache. An untouchable object of desire, Arletty invites the attention of two other hapless men, one a murderous crook who would "spill torrents of blood to give [her] rivers of diamonds" ("I'd settle for less," she retorts), and the other a mirthless count whom she marries for money. In his introduction to the gorgeous new Criterion DVD, which cleans up the most recent restoration and includes a generous selection of commentaries and supplemental materials, Terry Gilliam talks about how the characters are all memorable for their smiles, whether they're seductive, sardonic, charming, or pained. Over the course of the film, especially in its more sobering second half, these familiar smiles become a touching front for deeper feelings, either inexpressible or expressed at the wrong time. So, too, Children Of Paradise, which moves briskly and gracefully on the strength of its witty dialogue and sumptuous visuals, but has a greater emotional pull than it ever openly suggests.