I'm not quite sure I understand the problem?
When Espruino outputs "m\xe9m\xe9" to the REPL it's just playing it safe with the characters it outputs and is quoting anything over 128 - that is still a 4 character string (if you check .length it'll say 4).
Graphics should behave the same either way - your issue is finding a font that has glyphs for characters above 128 as the built-in one doesn't to try and save space. What you need is FontDennis8: http://www.espruino.com/Fonts
Once that font is set you shouldn't have to do anything to the string - it should 'just work'
i've used the same font on the 2 projects and the same codebase
ide trace "no error with Font4x6", and my accents are good on the display (TM1640) with no encoding, but not on the Max7219.
i do not understand why!
what i'm doing wrong?
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