As in “Paradise Lost,” the devil gets the best lines; “La Beauté du Diable” is essentially Simon’s show. (There’s a priceless moment when he cracks up at the sight of a costumed horned Satan prancing around as part of a court pageant.) Even when the movie turns didactic, Simon keeps it high-spirited.
Once considered among the masters of French film, René Clair took it in the knees from the original Cahiers du Cinema crowd, and his reputation plummeted into a critical darkness. Truffaut & Co. tsk-tsked at exactly what makes this forgotten 1950 fantasy fascinating: Clair’s lavish studio-bound artifice (using the cavernous Cinecittà spaces in this Italian coproduction), narrative hyperconstruction and quintessentially French effervescence.