I've finally seen Marcel Carné's Les visiteurs du soir
(1942), and must say: I'm completely amazed. A wonderful, dark (though often brightly lit) and romantic fairy tale/fantasy which kept me under its spell for the whole of its almost two hours. That the film didn't exactly have a big budget is very visible in the extremely fake looking medieval castle, but this artificiality only heightens its dreamlike, lyrical, unreal and entirely hypnotic qualities.
The style and the slow pace is impeccable, and Jules Berry's devil is genuinely frightening in his nonchalant wittiness which only barely conceals the disturbing darkness lying underneath (though I don't really buy into the sometimes proposed idea that the film is a parable on the German occupation of France). But most astonishing is Arletty's performance as one of the two minstrels in the devil's service. In man's clothing at first, she has a strong but very cold allure which is continued throughout the film, in which she changes appearances several times but always seems in total command of herself and everyone else (and just note how Carné dwells on her legs in the first of the transformation scenes... and of course he was right to do so
). I find her even more captivating in this film than in Les enfants du paradis
, which means something.
Very nicely done are also those moments when the two minstrels make time 'stand still', quite similar of course to what Powell would do four years later in A Matter of Life and Death
, and equally convincingly heightening the magical atmosphere of the whole of the film.
Extremely beautiful all the time, this is a film that - for instance - Cocteau fans should rather run not walk to see, even though the style is different, less 'realist' perhaps. I guess I'll put Les visiteurs du soir
rather high on my list, and it has my very highest recommendation. A must see, I think.