Sunday, July 29, 2012

#626: Les visiteurs du soir

(Marcel Carné, 1942)

Though he has other widely well-regarded films, Marcel Carné is famous for one film, 1945's Children of Paradise. That film, released just after the Occupation in WWII, has long been in the Collection, is often cited as the greatest French film ever made (I'm not a huge fan - it's a mime thing), and will almost certainly receive a blu-ray release from Criterion in the next year or so (a restored version of the film has been touring the US). Carné also has another film in the Collection, along with a fourth in the Essential Art House series, which I have yet to see. So when Les visiteurs du Soir is released later this year, it won't be the first film by this legendary director to have the C grace its cover.

However, this film is the first Carné with a spine number that was made during the Occupation, making it immediately rich with subtext (whether Carné admits it or not). Like Clouzot's best film under the Occupation, Carné's work isn't explicitly intended as a condemnation of their oppressors, but instead has the contemporary relevancy at the core of its story. It obviously doesn't take much of a stretch to equate the devil here with Hitler, and the final idea of statues with their hearts still beating is a beautiful metaphor for the French under Vichy rule.

But if you step away from historical context, Les visiteurs du soir is a quaint, unambitious love story/fable. It's hard to ignore Carné's flashes, though, most notably the moment when the room is frozen and the condemned walk freely around posed figures. It's moments like this that make the movie clearly Carné's, and while it might not be entirely my kind of film, it's nice to see a director who has been somewhat forgotten in the US (at least in comparison to fellow Frenchmen like Renoir, Clouzot, and Bresson) gain another high profile release.

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