Director: Jean-Marie Poiré
Production Company: Gaumont
For once this isn’t one Little Satis and I watched together. Mrs. Satis often likes to “discover” movies on TV after Little Satis is in bed, and the other night I happened to join her (usually I’m kicked out for talking during the movie). I really didn’t know what to expect, except that in passing I noticed Jean Reno, who I like, and Malcolm McDowell, who I like even more, and Christina Applegate, who will always be Kelly Bundy from Married With Children to me.
It turns out this is an americanized adaptation of a French film, with the distinguishing fact that it was made by the same people who made the original. This to me gives it slightly more authenticity than most bastardized adaptations (The Ring, I’m looking at you), though I’m still left with the feeling that the original is better. Even so, it was surprisingly enjoyable, with a blend of tongue-in-cheek and slapstick humor that, in fact, felt very French.
“I could reanimate her corpse, but I don’t think you would like the way she looks. Or smells.”
On the eve of 12th-century French Count Thibault’s wedding to an English princess he is poisoned by an English noble, and in a delusional rage kills the woman he loves. Condemned to death, he seeks the aid of an English wizard, delightfully portrayed by Malcolm McDowell, who offers to send him back in time to the moment before her death. Unsurprisingly things go wrong, and Thibault and his servant Andre suddenly find themselves in Chicago, in the year 2000.
Things fall out rather predictably from there, with much of the film’s humor stemming from Thibault and Andre’s difficulties in adjusting to 20th-century life (Andre eats everything he finds, and Thibault uses $2,000 worth of Chanel perfume as bath oil). Neither can cope with traveling at more than 20 miles an hour and they have naturally no understanding of modern culture, but their antiquated views on etiquette, civility and honor nonetheless have much to teach their ultra-modern counterparts. In other words, no big surprises.
What felt particularly authentic about the film to me, though, was the thought clearly put into the reactions of these 12th-century time travelers in modern-day Chicago. They arrive in a medieval museum exhibit, and Andre points out that their castle has been cleaved in half. The museum appears to them to be a demonic hell-plane, and the shock of stepping out of the museum sends them both running back inside in terror. Unable to cope with dining at an upscale restaurant, Andre the servant takes to skewering a chicken on an umbrella and roasting it in a fireplace before the other patrons. And of course, Thibault has to be convinced not to take off the hand of a pickpocket for stealing a lady’s purse.
I felt there were some missed opportunities as well, though; Thibault, despite his nobility and, ultimately, generosity, doesn’t seem to learn any particular lesson throughout the film, though he serves as the catalyst for others’. In terms of humor, there are few one-liners, mostly reserved for Malcolm McDowell’s wizard. When asked what he can do to save Thibault’s bride, he replies, “I could reanimate her corpse, but I don’t think you would like the way she looks. Or smells.” While such statements are undoubtedly humorous, it feels as though they undermine the humor of the rest of the film, which relies more heavily on situational humor (and, to be fair, slapstick).
For all of that, however, I was surprisingly pleased with the movie, and am glad to have been introduced to yet another Jean Reno movie. I’ll certainly be looking up the French original now, and I may just have to write about how they compare.
If you haven’t seen Just Visiting, do. If you have – what did you think?