La Nuit Fantastique

From the Chicago Reader (September 2, 2005). — J.R.

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Made during the French Occupation, this 1942 feature by Marcel L’Herbier is a whimsical yet brittle nocturnal fantasy that consists mainly of a nerdy Parisian student’s expressionistic, romantic dream about pursuing an imaginary beauty. It’s the first film scripted by Louis Chavance, editor of L’Atalante and writer of the corrosive Le corbeau, and it oddly evokes both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Eyes Wide Shut in its troubled moods and dreamlike studio settings (e.g., a formal ball at the Louvre, complete with magic show and trapdoors). Its illogical drift seems to convey the creepy collective unconscious of the occupation, so indelibly that even the happy ending turns out to be deeply disturbing. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)

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