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Le roi de coeur (1966)
Subversive Anti-War Fairy Tale
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.