|French actress Arletty plays Dominque, minion of the Devil, in Les visiteurs du soir d. Marcel Carne|
Les visiteure du soir
d. Marcel Carné
Criterion Collection #626
It must be a bittersweet moment when you get a New York Times obituary but said obituary says that you "outlived your time." Such is the case for french director Marcel Carné, the top director in pre and post World War II France. Carné was public enemy number one for the critics of the French New Wave, and he suffered a reversal in artistic fortune that has essentially lasted until today. Perhaps that is only because the precepts of the French New Wave became so popular with serious film fans that they also imbued the sort of temporal prejudice that led those critics to trash the poetic realism of Carné.
Les visiteurs du soir was filmed during World War II, in occupied France. The Tarantino film Inglorious Basterds gives a fairly accurate representation of the level of control and interest that the Nazi's had in the French Movie business. They had their own studio, they censored content, and of course all Jewish film makers were taken away to the gas chambers and murdered. Carné continued to work but financed Les visiteurs du soir himself, perhaps an important distinction separating him from outright Nazi collaborators.
Les visiteurs du soir is about two minions of the Devil, disguised as minstrels, who arrive at a castle in the Middle Ages during the preliminaries prior to a noble wedding. The mission of these minstrels is roughly explained as "seduce and destroy;" and that is what they do, seducing the bride, the groom and the groom's father. AND THEN the Devil shows up.
Les visiteurs du soir most reminded me of the medieval-set films of Ingmar Bergman (The Virgin Spring for one.) Although the setting is unabashedly historical, the morality and story is anything but, with sly nods to what would come to be known as "existentialism" and a frolicsome Devil who seems to caper with delight in every scene.