Les Visiteurs du Soir, 1942

Les Visiteurs du Soir - directed by Marcel Carne.

This French Medieval tale begins as two wandering minstrels come to the glistening bone-white castle belonging to Baron Hugues, where Anne (Marie Dea) and Renaud (Marcel Herrand) are sitting in the midst of their wedding party, who are not getting along very well as a series of entertainers pass before them, sometimes delighting the cynical and scarred Renaud but giving no pleasure at all to the gloomy Anne.

The two minstrels sing, and in particular Gilles (Alain Cuny) captures the attention of Anne.This attention prompts further effort from the minstrels, offending the new husband who can see the attraction. The minstrels then sit at the entertainers table while a dance is begun for the benefit of the nobles. As the ladies and men dance, suddenly they are frozen in time and space by the minstrel Dominique (Arletty), because he/she is not really a minstrel, but an envoy of the devil, sent along with fellow emissary Gilles to wreak despair upon the people.

With everyone magically frozen, the two envoys pass into the group, making their plot (which includes Dominique changing his/her gender to suit her chosen victim), and so the two begin their work of seduction and trickery upon the newlyweds.

This 1942 phantasy film features a somber world (though with witty dialogue) where love (and freedom) is truncated and caged, mimicking the real world of France, 1942, then under the occupation of the conquering Nazi German army which had set-up shop in Paris.

Director Carne and writers Jacque Prevert and Pierre Laroche don't present a direct allegory of the German domination, but they do present a completely French view of the problems onscreen (which hardly suited the Nazi directive to present a harmonious continental identity of a united Europe under German control).

The filmmakers have Satan himself appear in Soir (humorously played by Jules Berry) and this isn't meant to be taken as Hitler, or Germans at all (which, if communicated in the story, would have probably meant firing-squads for the film creators) but it does make the obvious connection across the centuries that evil tyrants practice cruelty, and part of that act of evil is borne from the fact that they are unloved.

This movie is said to have been the most popular film in France throughout the occupation years, and passed by the censors unscathed because it appears to be nothing but an escapist love story set in the 15th century, the psychology of the characters and the comment it makes upon France (circa 1942) undetected.

Original Page September 2006 | Aug 1, 2012

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