Blu-ray Review: King of Hearts (1966)

Now Available 

Bookmark and Share

Fresh out of film school and stuck making military documentary shorts, director Philippe de Broca discovered that not only had he had enough of war but he only wanted to make movies that would lift people up from that moment on.

Honing his skills even further as an assistant director on Chabrol's Le Beau Serge and Truffaut's The 400 Blows, de Broca's earliest successes revealed he had less in common with those filmmakers than he did with Tati and Demy given his affection for the cinematic showmanship of action vs. dialogue (best expressed in well choreographed over-the-top stunts) alongside ultra-bright colors and song.

Drawing on a number of genres from action to comedy to espionage in such influential international hits as That Man From Rio and Up to His Ears (both of which I reviewed earlier in another glorious Cohen Media Blu-ray release), de Broca proved that “laughter is the best defense against upsets in life.”

But try as he might to put war behind him, when his frequent collaborator, actor, and screenwriter Daniel Boulanger turned in a script for the daring antiwar comedy, King of Hearts (based on an idea by Maurice Bessy), de Broca took advantage of the opportunity to look back at the past with satirical glasses.

A bona fide cult hit made all the more significant given the war in Vietnam, Hearts experienced greater success in the United States than in de Broca's home country of France to the point that it played for five consecutive years in a Boston arthouse in the mid 1970s once it finally made its way across the pond.

Set during the final days of World War I, in this surrealist cross between Catch 22 and Alice in WonderlandScottish soldier Private Plumpick (Alan Bates) is given the plum awful assignment of traveling to a picturesque village in the French northern countryside that the Germans have wired to blow sky high. His mission? To locate and disarm the bomb, of course.

But while most of the occupants have abandoned the village, in a humdinger of a twist, the residents of a nearby psychiatric asylum wander out of their now unlocked surroundings to take their place. Replacing the sterility of shared white rooms with homes and businesses that had been left behind, the patients eagerly welcome the bewildered Plumpick upon his arrival.

Although it takes a good twenty minutes or so for viewers to get acclimated to King's unusual rhythm and storyline or lack thereof, de Broca's intriguing allegory isn't lost on us at all as he skillfully uses the absurdity of the situation to ask the viewer (as well as Plumpick) whether any of the film's characters are more or less sane than war.

Largely plotless save for the soldier's main mission to find and dispose of the bomb as well as a late developing romantic subplot involving the lovely Genevieve Bujold, Hearts gives de Broca the freedom to continue build upon his favored recipe of contemporary French absurdist humor and ‘20s era Hollywood slapstick, which he'd employed earlier in Rio and Ears.

The son of a production designer, de Broca’s attention to detail is spectacular here and everything about Hearts gives off a big screen Technicolor wonderland carnival vibe from Bujold’s main sunshine bright yet cotton candy light costume to composer Georges Delerue’s pitch perfect, merry-go-round ready score.

Overwhelmed by the idea of any anything goes free-for-all, while de Broca’s house of cards starts to topple during its second act, scripter Boulanger wisely shuffles in greater stakes – reminding us that although its residents might be blissfully unaware – war lingers on either end of the street.

An obvious cinematic impact on M*A*S*H* and No Man’s Land among others, while de Broca’s decision to make an experimental, near silent comedy excels overall, it prevents us from getting as close to his characters as we’d like as we find we're only able to identity them by their royal and/or playing card names.

And although it keeps the players at an arm's length for a majority of the picture, ironically this set up makes the war vs. peace impact of Hearts all the more meaningful by the time we reach the picture's moving conclusion, which is sure to stay with viewers more than any mind-boggling, comedic stunt.

Given a meticulous Technicolor restoration in time for its fiftieth anniversary and theatrical re-release back in 2016, Hearts has at last been transferred to stellar Blu-ray and DVD format complete with a few terrific bonus interviews and features, thanks to the Cohen Film Collection.

Requiring more patience than de Broca's more universally revered adventurous fare, although it's admittedly not for everyone, King of the Hearts remains one of de Broca’s most daring, ambitious, and surprisingly personal works.

A war movie where true to de Broca form, laughter provides the best defense against the madness of mass violence, although topical in the ‘60s, more than fifty years later, King of Hearts proves it still has something to say.

Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.