Whoever said that the French couldn't do medieval-themed time-travel comedies?
Probably very few, granted.
Still, cult comedy Les Visiteurs certainly proved that there was definitely room for more out-of-the-box efforts in the genre. Jean-Marie Poiré, king of blink-and-you'll-miss-em shots, brings his fast-paced, manic style to an absurd story involving knight Godefroy De Montmirail (a career-best Jean Reno) and vassal Jacqouille La Fripouille (Christian Clavier) somehow going forwards in time after a bad run-in with a devious witch. They are propelled into present-day (well, 90's) France after a wizard's potion backfires and they eventually meet their descendants who amusingly look exactly the same but find themselves more than confused by this knight and his disciple's sudden arrival. On paper, Les Visiteurs is nothing special: a typical, rather old-fashioned goofy fish-out-of-water farce. On top of that, Hollywood has its share of great time-travel movies from Back To The Future to Looper so that particular concept is really not all that ground-breaking, which is why the production of remake/sequel Just Visiting was a rather perplexing endeavour.
The main reasons why Les Visiteurs stands out as one of the must-see French comedies out there are the brilliant cast, their performances and the humour involved. It's weird to say but you really need to be French to really appreciate this movie fully. There are so many little nuggets of gold in the way the language is used and so many references to French culture that, chances are, if you're not French, all these will probably fly right over your head. Clavier's camp, overly posh tones as Jacqouille's bourgeois descendant Jacquart alone beg for an understanding of that language because the subtitles really fail to capture all the jokes and subtleties. As a film, Les Visiteurs manages to be really fun despite technically not that much happening post-time-travel. Once they get to present day, it's mostly about them clashing with modern technology etc. and trying to figure out how to get back to their time. That said, Poiré's hectic direction never lets the film get boring for a second. Capturing every single lol, nuance and reaction, no matter how short or seemingly insignificant, as long as it's comedically valid, he keeps it in there somehow, keeping the film flowing constantly throughout.
Other notable members of the cast include Valérie Lemercier, who is clearly having a ball playing her own airhead descendant and Marie-Anne Chazel, a regular in French comedies of the time, who plays a vulgar and obnoxious homeless woman. But this is very much Reno and Clavier's show, the duo bringing life to some cartoonish characters and taking the film on with gusto.
It may be a tad dated by this point but Les Visiteurs is still well worth watching if you never have before, especially if you're fluent in French. It's random, it's ludicrous, it's a lot of fun.