a.k.a. The Devil's Envoys
***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Alain Cuny, Arletty, Marie Déa, Jules Berry
screenplay by Jacques Prévert and Pierre Laroche
directed by Marcel Carné
by Jefferson Robbins Fairytale is the oldest way we know to exorcise trauma or repurpose it to didactic ends. The moving image, probably the newest. So Marcel Carné's Les visiteurs du soir (literally, The Night Visitors, though its international title is The Devil's Envoys), created in France during a period of repression equalled only by the Terror, pulls both tricks. It's a film, therefore it's not reality, but it's also shaped as a magical courtly romance and set in a distant past where romances were both entertainment and cultural transgression. Gilles (Alain Cuny) and Dominique (Arletty) are figures out of a medieval fresco or some monk's illuminated pages, from Gilles's suggestively forked mullet to Dominique's graceful, benedictory poses. The two are minstrels on horseback in 1485--when troubadours carried news, gossip, and forbidden literature from one feudal estate to the next, singing songs of organic, passionate love for nobles trapped in arranged marriages. A long way from Vichy France, under the Nazi occupation, yet either world offered death as punishment for dissent, and both found succour in art that trespassed boundaries.