Sunday, February 12, 2006

King of Hearts (1966)

If ignorance is bliss, then what is insanity?

Phillipe de Broca's King of Hearts (1966) finds the Germans retreating from a small French village at the end of the first World War. Before they do, however, they trigger the town to blow-up when the clock strikes midngight. Logically scared for their lives, the townspeople evacuate, leaving the local asylum unguarded. When Scottish officer Alan Bates arrives in town, he finds the town overrun by the innamtes, and he is soon crowned the King of Hearts. But the Scots and Germans haven't gone for good, and when they show up back in town, it's hard to tell who's the whacko.

And that's the point--that the soldiers, and the world at large, is crazier than anything inside the gated asylum. The loonies are much happier amongst themselves, remaining oblivious to anything so "overly dramatic" as fighting (as one of the inmates describes an impromtu battle between the two armies).

De Broca directs with such a subtle grace that many of the scenes seem to be set to an imaginary music that only the characters can hear. I'm thinking particularly of the three Scottish soldiers, stepping in unison, swaying right and then left, peering around corners to see if the Germans have gone. And the sequence when the inmates let loose in the abandoned town exhibits an understated sense of humor: the accustomed ease with which they pick up lipstick and clothes betrays the excitement that one would expect.

One of the most pleasant things about King of Hearts is its comedic pacing: it never goes for the quick guffaw, instead the movie feels rather understated, as though its humor can only heigthen with familiarity.

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