King Of Hearts [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (26th July 2018).
The Film

Towards the end of the war in 1918, a town in Northern France still awaits liberation by the Allied Forces. The Germans, lead by Lieutenant Hamburger (Frantic's Marc Dudicourt), however, are leaving a parting gift: an "artistic explosion" by way of the rigging the cemented-over munitions-stocked blockhouse to detonate when the knight on the church clock tower strikes midnight. The lieutenant's French barber overhears the plot and warns the villagers but is shot before he can complete his message to the Allied Forces outside the town, getting out only the part about the munitions in the blockhouse and "the knight strikes at midnight." Blustery but fearful Scottish Colonel Alexander MacBibenbrook (Thunderball's Adolfo Celi) decides to send in a "volunteer" to disarm the bomb, selecting ornithologist and carrier pigeon wrangler Officer Charles Plumpick (Women in Love's Alan Bates) for his ability to speak French rather than any expertise in munitions. He sneaks into the town but is spotted by the Germans. On the run, he hides in the local asylum amidst the mental patients who proclaim him "The King of Hearts" who unwittingly liberates them by leaving their ward open when the coast is clear. Knocking himself out while on the run, Plumpick is unaware that the locals have evacuated the village along with the Germans and that it has been repopulated by the mental patients who take on roles in the village in their absence: Eglantine becomes brothel madam Madame Eva (Devil in the Brain's Micheline Presle) – with tightrope walker Poppy (Dead Ringers's Geneviève Bujold) as the only unspoilt among her girls – General Geranium (Eyes Without a Face's Pierre Brasseur) takes over the circus in the town square and liberates the caged animals, the Duke of Clover (A Woman is a Woman's Jean-Claude Brialy) finds his duchess (Fantomas vs. Scotland Yard's Françoise Christophe), Monsieur Marguerite (Z's Julien Guiomar) dons the vestments of the village's Monsignor, and Monsieur Marcel (La Cage aux Folles's Michel Serrault) replaces the town barber. Unaware of what has transpired when he was unconscious, Plumpick tries to communicate in code with the barber and then the general as he tries to ascertain the location of the blockhouse and the meaning of what he believes to be the coded phrase "the knight strikes at midnight." Under the belief that he has infiltrated the wrong village, Plumpick sends word back to the front by pigeon. One of the pigeons reaches MacBibenbrook but another is shot down by the Germans who decide to return to the village to investigate. MacBibenbrook, on the other hand, believes that Plumpick has either "gone crackers" at his mention of bears and lions roaming the town freely, or has become a collaborator ("Pumpernickel. Isn't that a German name?") and sends three volunteers to apprehend Plumpick and disarm the blockhouse. Discovering his error, Plumpick tries to warn the locals of the impending explosion but they are too busy with their plans to coronate him as the "King of Hearts."

Although mainly known for his comedy in English-speaking territories, director Philippe de Broca (That Man from Rio) – who has a cameo as a quickly dismissed "Captain Adolf Hitler" – actually wove comedy into other genres in a number of his works (excepting some of his later films and television projects little seen outside of Italy and France). Much of this film's humor is derived from the incredulous reactions of Plumpick, the Scottish – along with the viewers own incredulity at the sight of Celi and Pier Paolo Capponi (Naked Violence) as kilted Scotsmen – and the Germans to the "insanity" of the inmates. The inmates, on the other hand, are not only aware of their activities as "play" but also a surprising lucidity about the reality of their situation. There is a certain ambiguity about the ending as to whether Plumpick literally retreats into madness at the end or just embraces the Duke's logic of play in a world where he is the King. Both the photography of cinematographer Pierre Lhomme (Camille Claudel) and the scoring of Georges Delerue (Women in Love) weave through the environments at the pace of the inmates in contrast to the scrambling of Plumpick (Bates would break his ankle during the filming) and the soldiers, just as impassively viewing the soldiers slaughtering one another as the king's court on the sidelines during the climax. The film that brought director Philippe de Broca international recognition, King of Hearts manages to be both an episodic surrealistic comedy and a stirring anti-war film.
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Video

Funded by United Artists, King of Hearts was distributed by that company in virtually all territories but the United States where it was distributed by Lopert Pictures, the company of Ilya Lopert whose track record of distributing foreign films lead to United Artists acquiring the company to distribute then-controversial titles like Black Orpheus and Never on Sunday while making Lopert himself UA's coordinator of European production. Although an arthouse hit, the film had a spotty distribution history on home video, with two CED editions – the earlier one erroneously claiming to be English-dubbed – followed by a Criterion laserdisc. MGM utilized the same transfer for their 2001 non-anamorphic DVD. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is sourced from Cohen Media's 4K restoration of the original 2-perf Techniscope negative supervised by cinematographer Pierre Lhomme which Cohen had made available on Blu-ray in the United States the previous month. The restoration is overall impressive, with grain able to resolve the mist that hangs in the air in morning wide shots of the town and boasts some great fine detail in close-ups that almost impart the sense of a film made more recently (or at least a sixties film shot with 4-perf anamorphics).
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Audio

The sole audio option is an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono French track that boasts clean dialogue and effects while also imparting an almost tactile presence to the more delicate passages of Delerue's score. Optional English subtitles are free of errors.

Extras

Extras start off with an audio commentary by film critic Wade Major who contrasts de Broca's film with those of the New Wave from the same period, and his intention to give a satirical story the treatment of a historical drama, noting his stylistic choices in line with "the cinema of quality." Also shared between the two discs is an interview with actress Genevieve Bujold (14:25) who recalls her convent schooling and early days in a traveling theatrical troupe where she was discovered by the mother of Alain Resnais who recommend her to her son for The War is Over. She shares her recollections of the director and the atmosphere on the set which was one of "play" not unlike that of the mental patients. She also feels that the film has remained relevant due to its universal themes and antiwar message. An interview with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme (9:28) which is apparently different from the one on the US release (which is conducted in English) in which he recalls meeting de Broca as a young man in the Army Film Unit, and that de Broca was one of the directors of that period of filmmaking who went to film school and possessed a better understanding of both technical and stylistic aspects of filmmaking (during a period of destylization). Also exclusive to the UK disc is the interview with Michelle de Broca (9:44) in which the director's wife at the time reveals that there was no French production company – Fildebroc having been founded with de Broca's Italian partner while the funding was through United Artists with Ilya Lopert on the set signing the checks as he would with their three other collaborations – that Bessy's story was based on a real wartime newspaper story about inmates escaping an asylum, and that the original script was set during World War II but it was changed to World War I when set designer François de Lamothe (Le Samouraï ) discovered the town of Senlis. The theatrical trailer (2:00) is also included on the disc.
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Overall

The film that brought director Philippe de Broca international recognition, King of Hearts manages to be both an episodic surrealistic comedy and a stirring anti-war film.
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