Can someone explain to me
why movies today can't have great posters like this.
In this continuing series devoted to reviewing motion pictures ideal for this season of celebration and gift giving, here is KLYMKIW CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEA 2012 #7: The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of the Marcel Carné Masterpiece "Les visiteurs du soir" about love amongst the minions of the Devil and those they must convert to Satan worship and/or spread ill-will amongst. A perfect gift for the celebration of Baby Jesus H. Christ.
dir. Marcel Carné
Starring: Arletty, Alain Cuny, Marie Déa, Fernand Ledoux, Marcel Herrand, Jules Berry
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Those who've come back to us from Near Death Experiences (NDE), often describe one salient common detail, which is, being enveloped by the sensation of overwhelming love. It's as if the true power of the universe, of existence, of spirit and science can be called God, but is, whatever it is, that which is borne from rapture - a love that is as pure and intense as life itself.
The power of love is, for me, what ultimately rests at the core of Marcel Carné's masterpiece Les visiteurs du soir, a deliriously enchanting medieval fairytale. With sumptuous production design, a perfect cast, and a screenplay that always tantalizes and surprises, Carné pulled off a film that was France's hugest box office hit during the 40s, continued to delight post-war audiences abroad and miraculously withstood the ravages of time and continued to be of universal importance in terms of both its entertainment value and its submerged, though vital, political and social subtext.
Set against the lavish backdrop of French nobleman Baron Hugues's (Fernand Ledoux) castle, preparations are underway to marry off his beautiful daughter Anne (Marie Déa) to the vulgar, loutish Baron Renaud (Marcel Herrand). One suspects Hugues would normally see through the wrong-headedness of this arranged marriage, but alas, he wanders about in a cloud of despair having been widowed from the woman he loved so dearly and faithfully.
Under these dire circumstances, happiness for the beleaguered Anne is not to be.
In fact, the potential for even more dire consequences multiplies exponentially with the arrival of two new visitors to the castle, a pair of wandering minstrels. Gilles (Alain Cluny) is a mouth-wateringly gorgeous young man with a sad face and sadder eyes that betray much pain and heartache. A fey, young fellow with a hard, icy beauty accompanies him. If it were not for the male garb, we might suspect that he is a she. And so it is, that she, is not a he, but is indeed, a she. Adorned in drag, this is the former lover of Gilles, Dominique (the gorgeous, radiant French star Arletty). Though they travel together, their love has faded. As minstrels, they make beautiful music together, but no similar beauty exists between them as a pair.
They enter the castle, ostensibly to perform at the various wedding festivities. Sure enough, they indeed perform and when they do, they do so rapturously. Gilles and Dominique have other aims. They've sold their souls to the Devil and wander the Earth to surreptitiously spread ill will. Seeing as this household is already burdened with the despair of a husband missing his late wife and the despair of his daughter being forced to marry an odious fop, one wonders how much more wretched gloom these Satanic emissaries will imbue the proceedings with.
Things, however, take a few unimagined turns when the power of true love threatens to rear its sweet head, but this is no typical fairy tale - there are no guarantees that love will conquer evil. A truly formidable force joins the proceedings when it seems that his minions might be blowing it - a crazed madman who appears to embody all in the world that is truly abominable.
He is none other than The Devil himself.
Nothing in this tale will come easily, if it comes at all. This is, after all, a film by the estimable Marcel Carné and produced in the midst of the Nazi Occupation of France. There are many laughs, much that is delightful and plenty of romance, but there is, amidst the surface enchantment, a roiling cauldron of darkness.
The elegance, intelligence and sophistication of this great picture stand on their own, but frankly, it is impossible - with the hindsight of history - to avoid the fact that all in the film's plot that is duplicitous, double-crossing and evil is rooted in the reality of a country living under the cloud of a turncoat collaborationist government, the Vichy, and its conquerors, the Nazis.
Even more powerful is the fact that the film was made before the Liberation and within that context; there might well have been little hope in France that the forces of right would quash all that was wrong.
At a critical point in the film's proceedings, it becomes clear that the central protagonist is Satan himself and as brilliantly, eye-roilingly and viciously portrayed by the great Jules Berry, the devil bears a mighty strong resemblance to Adolph Hitler.
Three years later, and in secret no less, Marcel Carné would go on to direct one of the great films under the Occupation of France, Les enfants du paradis and as tremendous as that film is, Les visiteurs du soir might well be his masterpiece.
See it! Les visiteurs du soir, The Envoys of the Devil, threaten to drag the world of the film down, but in so doing, you, the audience, will soar!
"Les visiteurs du soir" is a must-own Blu-Ray, or if you must, DVD and as such (and given the film's subject matter, prove to be an excellent gift for someone special this Christmas Season. The Criterion Disc is replete with lovely extra feature including an all-new digital restoration, an uncompressed monaural soundtrack (as always, MY favourite feature), a tremendous 2009 documentary on the making of the picture, "L’aventure des Visiteurs du soir” and new English subtitles with a fresh translation.