Though it was somewhat famously a staple of Boston-area rep cinema in the 1970s, Iíll admit that I knew next to nothing about director Philippe de Brocaís 1966 satire King of Hearts before I caught it at the Brattle Theatre this year on a night guest curated by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. (King of Hearts was Palmerís excellent pick.) The film was an unexpected delight, and I left the screening on a high, impatient to recommend it to whoever might listen.
Iíll admit that the storyline sounds dour: in the last days of WWI, a Scottish solider finds himself struggling to disarm a German bomb set to annihilate a little French town. The town itself has been evacuated save for the denizens of the local insane asylum, who have escaped and taken over. Yet as heavy as the premise sounds, King of Hearts is a spritely charmer: the kind of comedy that makes comedy appear effortless, and a clever picture that never applauds its own cleverness.
The ostensibly ďmadĒ townspeople have an innocence and joie de vivre that rarely wane, manifesting in gentle and amusing ways that donít become cloying. In what may be my favorite moment, they delight in the spectacle of some approaching soldiers – never mind that the soldiers are German – and end up confounding their presumed enemies by showering them with confetti and cheers, leaving them too baffled to attack.
King of Hearts is by no means escapist filmmaking; it deals too directly with the horrors of human history for that. But with its lushly colorful visuals and incisive and soulful wit, it is the kind of art that one can take refuge in, if only for one hundred minutes.
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