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As I was reading through the comments here for "King of Hearts" I noticed two different schools of thought on the film. Many, like myself, have fond memories of seeing this film in the 60s and 70s and were delighted by it. The other comments come from younger viewers who see this film as being "dated" and not that funny, yet worthwhile viewing. At first I was a little miffed at this generations comments about a gem of my generation, until it dawned on me that they were somewhat correct. The film is a bit dated because they just do not make films like this anymore. It was never meant to be knee slapping funny. The humor was a non-intrusive "gentle" humor that seems to be a foreign concept in this day and age. Another reason many younger viewers do not "get" this film is because one of the themes here is non-conformity. This was a crucial concern of those growing up in the 60s. We wanted our individuality to show and not be just a number. Society has did a 180 since then. Today people are more concerned with fitting in than standing out. So yes, this film possibly is a bit dated. It is a bit of movie magic from a far simpler time and I have a feeling that there are a lot of people under 30 who would not see this as dated at all. King of Hearts is one of a small handful of films that celebrates the simple magic of being alive. Come and experience it.
De Broca's delightful and surreal anti-war fantasy quickly attained a
cult status when it was first released, but in recent years it has
dropped more and more out of sight. A shame, because it is a charming
film, the whimsical, romantic nature of which is entirely French. Even
though the underlying message, that of preferring one kind of insanity
to another is a simple, absurdist one, the viewer is still carried
along by the Gaullic charm of it all.
As the much-put-upon martial ornithologist, It's not just because Bates is the only English member of the cast that one is aware of some awkwardness in his casting. For English cinema goers in particular, familiar with his career, his usual jocular masculinity is hard to reconcile with an child-like character, swept along by events. Those who remember Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling nude in 'Women in Love' (1962) from the same period, or his cocky Vic in 'A Kind of Loving' (1962), may bulk at Bates portraying such a confused innocent. Having said that, Bates' actual performance is balanced and restrained, all of a piece with the rest of the cast.
'King of Hearts' is primarily an ensemble piece. Many of the film's most delightful moments spring from the fancy-filled and flirtatious lunatics who quickly fill the streets, shops and occupations left by the fleeing villagers, their interaction with each other, and Plumpick. This world of fantasy is curtailed by the village walls, which physically as well as mentally encircle their environment. Outside is reality (no matter how ludicrously it is presented), conflict, death. Inside the walls is harmony of sorts, life celebrated. This distinction between outside and inside is made clear in the film. As soon as Plumpick attempts to ride a horse back into the real world for help, the music and the mass accompaniment of him by the inmates has to end until he is obliged to return.
As the 'King of Hearts' Plumpick is at the center of his motley 'people', as well as of Coquelicot's (Geneviève Bujold) affections. Once he awards himself his name, in a panic and on the run, his 'subjects' call out for him. He is promptly 'crowned' (both by banging his head, inducing his initial confusion, and though acquiring his 'kingship'). He is awarded a bride, and accepted as an unique traveller into the society of the amiably mad. Their acceptance of him anticipates the final scene of the film, when a chastened Plumpick re-admits himself into their company, having rejected the larger insanity of warfare.
It's fitting in a way that the least successful parts of the film lay outside of the village, where comic stereotypes replace whimsy and the comedy is drawn with much broader strokes. In particular Colonel MacBibenbrook (Adolfo Celi, better known as Emil Largo in 'Thunderball') is uncomfortably close to parody, and his part would have been much better cast with an actor like Trevor Howard who could excel with a line in ironic bombast. The Germans fare no better and, although amusing and lightweight in their capers, one misses the delicacy with which the lunatics are portrayed. One suspects that De Broca associates more with the geniality of the insane, as we all do given the options, and this sympathy is reflected on screen
Tellingly, the lunatics are not completely oblivious to the hostile world which surrounds them, although they are content to ignore the immediate threat of destruction and Plumpick's warnings. At the end of the film, once the opposing forces have symbolically destroyed themselves, Marcel says:'I'm tired of this game, let's go back to our rooms'. With deliberate sadness, they divest themselves of their play robes and return to their asylum, a divestment scene at the same time quiet, serious and eminently sane. It is clear that they are mad - but not crazy.
It's World War I, and a Scottish Private named Plumpick (Alan Bates) is
ordered to infiltrate a French village and stop a bomb that the Germans have
planted from going off. Upon arriving, Plumpick discovers the entire village
deserted, except for the patients of the local insane asylum, who have been
left behind. The patients soon escape the asylum, play dress-up with the
various clothes they find lying around the village, and take it over. Not
only this, but they crown Plumpick their king! With the German army still in
the vicinity nearby, Plumpick must find the bomb, diffuse it, and save his
"subjects" from certain death....
An all-time foreign film classic, "Le Roi De Coeur," aka "King Of Hearts," is a marvelous movie, full of sweetness, charm, and both clever comedy & fine drama that also comments very well on the stupidity of war. Alan Bates, who sadly passed away recently, is simply wonderful as Private Plumpick, as is the lovely Genevieve Bujold as the young patient named Poppy that Plumpick falls for, and Adolfo Celi is quite funny as Plumpick's stuffy superior officer. The rest of the film's big ensemble cast, whether playing the asylum patients or various soldiers, are all excellent, too.
The only thing that stops "King Of Hearts" from being perfect is that it *could* very well be argued that the insane asylum patients in this movie aren't...well, *insane* enough. They may speak strangely to one another or to Private Plumpick, but, for the most part, they act & behave quite coherently. But other than that, "King Of Hearts" is a very charming foreign film, and one of the very best films of the late, great Alan Bates. Definitely seek this one out.
I saw King of Hearts on its original release when I was 15. For 35 years it has remained one of my favourite movies; perhaps the number one. Nothing in particular about the film so qualifies it. I like quite a number of "better" films, but KOH touched me in a way that stuck. It is an authentic movie; the reality is as simple as the english speaking english, the french french, and the germans german. The crazy people are sane, the sane people crazy. It is funny and tragic and perhaps a little too quirky but ... if you haven't tried it on you should.
The King of Hearts should be seen by a new generation of viewers now in the
summer of 2004. This is a great fable--which during the 1980s might have
seemed dated, but now is more relevant than ever. It is a great meditation on war. As a movie, the circus-like atmosphere and characters combine to form a grand entertainment. We get seduced by the world of childlike imagination and sense of wonder we see in the inmates. We embrace them. Great
philosophical moments abound--all surrounded by beautiful colors, wonderfully funny moments and a gorgeous music score. The final scene is such a classic-- and takes the audience by such surprise--one goes out of the film absolutely
exhilarated. A funny, charming and ultimately profound film.
Perhaps I am biased because the female lead, Genevieve Bujold
(Coquelicot / Poppy) reminds me of a young French girl whom I fell in
love with, and then lost, 40 years ago - the very same year that I
first saw the film (1966 or early 1967).
But personal memories apart, it is stunning to watch how French director Philippe de Broca managed to fuse hilarious fun and melancholy reflection in a mold that is an incredible mixture. There is fairy tale, commedia dell'arte, circus, slapstick, comedy, romance - and World War I carnage. Among the supporting roles, the cast features some of the foremost French actors of those times; and it is obvious that they enjoyed every bit of it, especially as they put in a number of biting quips along with marvelous cameos.
This is what happens: For one day Private Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates) becomes, rather against his will, the mock king of a group of lunatics. This motley crowd have escaped from their asylum and have temporarily taken possession of a deserted town in Northern France between the 1918 front lines. Eventually Plumpick owes it to his lunatic friends that he survives when his Scottish battalion and their German counterpart meet in battle. There seems to be no way out of the madness of war. But don't miss the penultimate scene! (Rumour has it that it was censored in the American version at the time...)
My favorite scene is when young, innocent Coquelicot takes the shortest way from the brothel (well - it's a French film, isn't it?) to the town hall to meet her loved one, the King of Hearts - using two telegraph wires as a tightrope.
Why the film was a flop in its own country, and why neither a DVD or at least a video tape is available in France, I simply do not understand. Is it because only the French speak French but the Scots speak English and the Germans speak German? (Note de Broca himself, very early in the film, in a 5 second cameo as Private Adolf Hitler!) No need to worry - there are subtitles to help you along. Actually the DVD recently on sale in the USA *is* the original French version! Subtitled, and uncensored, to be sure.
I cannot deny that the film does have its shortcomings. The story is somewhat inconsistent, there seem to be goofs galore, continuity is lousy. But then it seems that de Broca had to make do with a lousy budget, too. And what he has created is essentially a dream which opposes to the nightmare of war a vision of humanity. In such dreams inconsistency, goofs and lousy continuity do not really matter. So it is still 10 out of 10.
A timeless and exquisite treatment of profound and compelling issues, this 1966 International collaboration, was one of the few films ever to give tasteful testimony to being truly sane, or maybe I should say being truly (in)sane in a cruel and berserk world. If you liked Life Is Beautiful, E.T., Star Wars, The Great Dictator, Gandhi, Henry V, Blazing Saddles, or Rain Man... you will probably love this movie. It remains for me among the top three or four, of all movies I have ever seen.
My mother had seen King of Hearts years ago, when she was in college. When I was about seven or eight (a few years ago, she rented the movie. Most of the movie is in French and it had subtitles, so even though I could just barely understand what was being said, I had a wonderful understanding of what was going on. It's the type of movie where what's on screen is enough to let a person get a gist of the scene. When I first saw the movie, I remembered how lovely the music was, how I grew to love the "crazy" people from the asylum, and how beautiful the movie was. When my mom bought the movie, we watched it constantly. I still watch it at least once a month. It's one of my favorite movies. I really do love the music. For me, it simulates fun insanity. I love every single aspect of King of Hearts. If you ever have a chance to see it, then go! Go see King of Hearts!
One of the great ones; makes you ask the question, " Who are the real lunatics?" Excellent cast and direction; done with rare humor, yet carries a profound message
One of greatest movies of all time, it is charming and sweet, funny and
romantic. It is a unique film that at once captures the best of
humanity and the folly of war. Set in a small town in World War I
France, it has a crazy premise that works because the film is true to
that premise to the very end. Everything about it is superb: the
acting, the direction, the writing, the score, the cinematography. Alan
Bates and Genevieve Bujold are perfectly cast in the lead, but the
entire cast is great. The music is beautiful. The ending is brilliant.
If you rent it, be sure you get the subtitled version. It is in three languages (French, English, German), and the dubbed version loses a lot.
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