Saturday, June 9, 2018

Blu-ray debut for Philippe de Broca's whimsical French "classic" from 1966 -- KING OF HEARTS

Throughout much of his life -- even now -- TrustMovies has been pretty much a sucker for whimsical movies. He loves the work of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, for instance, and even more so that of their Belgian compatriot, Jaco van Dormael. When he first saw KING OF HEARTS, directed by prolific French filmmaker Philippe de Broca, at the time of its initial USA theatrical release back in 1967, he found it pretty awful. But that was 51 years ago, and his tastes have changed some -- broadened and deepened -- over time. Since the film went on the become a kind of cult classic, he thought perhaps he'd missed something, and so, with its new release on DVD and Blu-ray from the Cohen Film Collection, the time seemed ripe for reconsideration.

The quick verdict: Despite its glorious new Blu-ray transfer -- crisp, clear, with colors that look as true and beautiful as they must have a half century ago -- fabulous cinematography by Pierre Lhomme, a fairy tale production design (François de Lamothe), and an international cast made up of some of the finest actors of the time, the movie still pretty much sucks.

I have great admiration for de Broca, shown at right, but of the dozen or so films of his I've seen, this is probably my least favorite. (The Five Day Lover would be my top choice.)

King of Hearts is cute-tending-towards-cutesy from its start, with silly names abounding and an already tired Hitler joke intruding on its World War I time frame. Italy's grand Adolfo Celi (above, center) is dubbed with a high-toned British accent, while England's dark and dour Alan Bates (on poster, top, and below) seems utterly lost and at his least in this world of French whimsy.

To buy into the film's would-be charm, you have to believe its overdone and rather ridiculous WWI opening. I couldn't back in 1967 and still can't manage it. The plot involves a twist on the old inmates-take-over-the-asylum theme, but this time they take over the entire town. And then they gambol, frolic and cavort. And cavort  And cavort some more.

The entire movie has perhaps a half-hour worth of content. The other 72 minutes are devoted to this tiresome frolicking. At times, I swear, you'll imagine that this must be the movie for which your DVD's fast-forward button was invented.

To its credit, King of Hearts is most definitely anti-war. A climactic scene, in fact, demonstrates the futility of wartime conflict, and if the rest of the film had some of this humorous satirical edge, it might have proven much stronger.

The two most charming characters here turn out to be women: the bordello madam, played with her usual finesse by Micheline Presle (above, in foreground) and that madam's most innocent worker, played by Geneviève Bujold (in yellow above, left, and in photo at bottom, right), in one of her early roles.

If you're a fan of this film, little will hold you back from wanting to see it again (and in such a fine transfer!). If you're a newcomer, however, its adorable cutesiness may set your teeth on edge so often along the way that I suggest you have a plastic mouthguard at the ready to protect those pearly whites.

From the Cohen Film Collection and running 103 minutes, King of Hearts hits the street this coming Tuesday, June 12, on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital -- for purchase and/or rental. Bonus features (on both DVD and Blu-ray) include feature-length audio commentary track by Wade Major, film critic with NPR affiliate KPCC-FM and co-host/producer of the IGN DigiGods podcast; a new conversation between Geneviève Bujold and IndieWire's Anne Thompson; a new interview with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme; and the 2018 USA re-release trailer and the French re-release trailer.

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