Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dream Factory: Les Visiteurs du Soir

Les Visiteurs du Soir
a.k.a. The Devil's Envoys
Directed by Marcel Carne
Original release: DisCina 1942 (France)
US theatrical release: Superfilm Distribution Corporation 1947
US DVD release: Criterion Collection 2012
Streaming: Hulu
Not rated

Gilles and Dominique, a pair of minstrels, arrive at the estate of Baron Hugues during the celebration of his daughter Anne's engagement to Renard and perform for the entourage.  Having sold themselves to the devil, they are here to ensnare the betrothed.  Through magic and trickery (including a spell that freezes time), the envoys attempt to seduce Renard and Anne.  While Dominique successfully toys with both Renard and Baron Hugues, unlucky Gilles falls in love with Anne, who returns his feelings.  As the devil's plans unravel, he arrives himself to set things "right."

Les Visiteurs du Soir isn't particularly famous, overshadowed by Mr. Carne's later film Children of Paradise, but that doesn't mean it's a forgettable film.  It's remembered as an allegory of the French resistance during the German occupation of WWII, although this was not the director's intent.

Mr. Carne operated under the banner of poetic realism, which favored stylized sets over realistic location shooting, and often featured ill-fated characters who lived on the margins of society.  Gilles easily fits the mold here, being a poor lover who mistakenly entered into a Faustian bargain.  His former lover, Dominique, no longer cares for him, enjoying the conquests ordered of her, and he feels trapped by the confines of his extended life and the restrictions of his contract.  Upon realizing that he is in love with Anne, he attempts to spurn her, rather than sacrifice her to the devil, but their love proves to be too strong.  In the end, he has her love, but not his life.  It's quite fatalistically romantic!

The special effects used are fairly basic, but they've aged decently.  Or, at least, they aren't reminiscent of cheesy Dark Shadows effects.  The costumes and sets also appear to have been made on a fairly large budget.

Not being a French speaker, I can't really comment much on the acting, although I did enjoy the performances of Alain Cuny (Gilles) and Jules Berry (the Devil).

This film actually reminded me of a distilled The Seventh Seal, likely because of the fatalism, time period, and supernatural goings-on.  While it would be unfair to compare this to Mr. Bergman's masterpiece, it's fairly enjoyable, if slow at times, and I feel that fans of cinematic fantasy will enjoy it.

Here's the original French trailer:

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