Immortality: one of life’s great impossibilities, and yet so many throughout history have striven to it. We try to live in a way that will lead others to sing of us after our deaths, so that at least we’ll be remembered through the years. We wonder about our children, and their children, and beyond, trying to picture and decipher the lives that those with our blood will see, even if we cannot.
In 1993’s The Visitors, Godefroy de Papincourt, the Comte de Montmirail, accomplishes what men like him could only dream of: he travels to the future and discovers his own progeny. His unabashed joy at meeting his great-great-great-etc. daughter, and at seeing her own children, proof that his line continues unabated for nearly 900 years, is palpable. But it’s more than that: it’s getting to meet family that he never could otherwise, and that’s, quite literally, miraculous.
The cult French film, now available on Netflix Instant, stars Jean Reno as Godefroy. A spell by a senile wizard, intended to send him just a few hours into the past to prevent the death of his betrothed’s father, instead catapults Godefroy and his unfaithful manservant Jacquouille 870 years into the future. They’re in the same place, but it’s entirely different.
Despite its contemplative themes, The Visitors is, for the most part, a silly movie. It’s the best, most fun sort of camp; one of those movies where everyone involved in making it is in on the joke. It’s great to see Reno, just before he stars as Leon in The Professional, do ridiculous things like use water from a toilet bowl to clean his face and hands. He’s all outer seriousness, but there’s a twinkle in his eye.
The script comes up with endless situations in which to stick Godefroy and Jacquouille, to see what they’ll do when interacting with the modern world. Taking a bath? Dump every bath salt and soap in the room, plus an entire bottle of Chanel No. 5, into the tub. Given a plastic-wrapped sandwich? Bite into it, right through the cellophane. Looking for a flashlight or torch? Rip the electric candle sconces out of the walls. Trying to communicate via telephone? Shout into the room, looking in every corner for the source of the tiny voice.
I’ve seen a handful of comedies where characters from the past are brought forward into the future. All of them are thrust into farcical situations and it’s always funny. But The Visitors is nonstop hilarity, because everything – the acting, the directing, and the writing – is gleeful at getting to be so goofy. Yet, the film doesn’t stoop to full-out insulting its characters, either. While it’s obviously making fun of everyone and everything, it doesn’t make the characters stupid.
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