The Visitors (les Visiteurs)

on December 31, 1997 by Joseph McBride
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   The fact that France's runaway boxoffice champion "The Visitors" inexplicably took four years to reach these shores is an indication of how depressed the American market is for foreign films. Some of its humor is pitched to a specifically European sensibility, but there are ample pleasures for Yanks to share in this droll yarn about time travel. Christian Clavier, who wrote the script with director Jean-Marie Poire, and co-star Jean Reno are delightful as a befuddled pair transported from the 12th century to the hubbub of contemporary France.
   The film begins as a Monty Python-style takeoff on the sword-and-sorcery genre, replete with gags about damsels in distress, magic potions and outlandish gore. But when doughty knight Godefroy (Reno) and his squire Jacquasse (Clavier) collide with modern traffic, smog, appliances, sexual mores and democratic expectations, "The Visitors" becomes a clever satire of contrasting worldviews. Godefroy is outraged by what the modern world has done to his castle (turned it into a chi-chi hotel run by Clavier in a dual role), but Jacquasse revels in his newfound freedom to act any way he pleases. Their uncouth behavior outrages most Frenchmen but unexpectedly charms Godefroy's bourgeois descendant Beatrice (Valerie Lemercier).
   The slapstick scenes of Godefroy and Jacquasse trashing Beatrice's home are reminiscent of the anarchic humor of Jean Renoir's 1932 classic "Boudu Saved from Drowning." But Beatrice treats her guests with a winning tolerance reflecting the best in both the aristocratic and egalitarian traditions. Lemercier's unconventional charm makes her a suitable object of Godefroy's chivalric affections in both eras.
   The raunchy (subtitled) dialogue earned the film an R rating, targeting "The Visitors" for adult audiences in the U.S., although more sophisticated youngsters would appreciate its irreverence and Jerry Lewis-style buffoonery. "The Visitors" is a comedy with a rare ability to travel.    Starring Christian Clavier, Jean Reno, Valerie Lemercier, Marie-Anne Chazel and Christian Bujeau. Directed by Jean-Marie Poire. Written by Christian Clavier and Jean-Marie Poire. Produced by Alain Terzian. A Miramax release (originally released in France by Gaumont in 1992). Comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 106 min. Subtitled.
Tags: Christian Clavier, Jean Reno, Valerie Lemercier, comedy, Marie-Anne Chazel, Christian Bujeau, Jean-Marie Poire, foreign, medieval, France, French, time travel, wizardry, fish-out-of-water
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