‘Hearts’ is the ‘king’ of political satire

Alex Schmerge

“King of Hearts,” directed by Philippe de Broca, is a whimsical comic parable set in the French countryside toward the end of World War I. This cult classic focuses on a Scottish soldier, Private Plumpick (Alan Bates), who wanders into a small village occupied by patients of an insane asylum and becomes their “King of Hearts.” The story is based on a true story about French mental patients who dressed in American uniforms after their hospital was bombed, were subsequently shot by the Germans. (This is not to suggest, that the mental patients in “King of Hearts” are doomed from the beginning.)

Plumpick comes to realize that the enchanting eccentricity of the insanity within the asylum is perhaps more desirable than the full-blown insanity of civilization at war. The film constantly deals with the idea of insanity versus sanity, and challenges the viewer to re-examine what constitutes true madness. Is the world of war and violence any saner than the imaginary world created by the patients of a lunatic asylum? De Broca’s own military experience from serving in the French army as a newsreel cameraman is perhaps the reason why he chose to direct “King of Hearts.”

“King of Hearts” is created from a series of brief vignettes and episodes approaching the story from a number of different angles, rather than telling the story on a larger, broader scale. As with many of his films, de Broca creates a captivating story from a very slender premise. This film is somewhat of a throwback to a time when deliberate pacing, character development, dialogue and subtlety were more important than special effects and graphics.

“King of Hearts” was made at the peak of turbulence in the 1960s. Vietnam had millions of Americans glued to their television sets every night. Civil unrest was the norm where “King of Hearts” found its cult following. The antiwar sentiments of de Broca’s World War I parable certainly contributed to the film’s popularity at the time of the many Americans’ disillusionment with Vietnam, but these sentiments do not entirely explain it. There is a sweet, light sense of humor to the film. De Broca claims that his experiences as a newsreel cameraman shifted his interest to comedy, when he decided the real world was just too ugly. He certainly incorporates satire, whimsy and even some slapstick into his film. “King of Hearts” is not only a philosophical satire on war, but it is also somewhat of a comedy. The sense of humor the film is one to which anyone can relate, which is what makes it so appealing to viewers. Instead of expressing a fierce hatred for war, as many contemporary war films often do, “King of Hearts” portrays itself as a silly and attractive comedy that shows that war is bad is because it is idiotic. This combination of war and comedy is possibly what makes “King of Hearts” a popular cult classic.

“King of Hearts” will be shown on Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Monday at 7 p.m. in the Connelly Center Cinema. Admission is $3 for students and $4 for others. The Monday showing will be followed by a discussion, “War and Sanity: A Sensitive Issue,” led by Paula Michal-Johnson of the Department of Communication.

For more information about the Cultural Film Series, please call x9-4750 or visit the CFS website at www.culturalfilms.villanova.edu/