Stage and Spectacle: Three Films by Jean Renoir (The Golden Coach / French Cancan / Elena and Her Men) (The Criterion Collection)
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French Cancan is perhaps the greatest backstage movie ever made. Jean Gabin plays a stage impresario of the 1880s (surely a stand-in for Renoir himself), hatching a plan to revive the naughty can-can and school a young ingenue (Francoise Arnoul) in the rigors of art and life. With 1956's Elena and Her Men, Renoir relies on the effortless beauty of Ingrid Bergman, as a Polish princess juggling devotees (including Jean Marais as a smitten general, for whom love trumps politics every time). While not a woman of the theater, Elena understands the value of putting on a show.
The Criterion box is an authoritative pleasure (including the pretty packaging), featuring best-possible visual transfers. Excellent archival introductions to Elena and Golden Coach are delivered by Renoir himself, shot sometime in the 1960s; Peter Bogdanovich provides a solid 10-minute talk on Cancan. A one-hour-plus, three-part Renoir interview, conducted by New Wave filmmaker-critic Jacques Rivette, is spread across all three discs; Renoir is in fascinating, aphoristic form ("Intelligence is terrible. It makes us do stupid things"). Part of an informative BBC documentary, Jean Renoir: Hollywood and Beyond, is bundled with Elena. Essays by the likes of Andrew Sarris and Jonathan Rosenbaum provide context for Renoir's celebratory but unsparing look at the intersection of Art and Life. --Robert Horton
Top Customer Reviews
THE GOLDEN COACH, FRENCH CANCAN and ELENA AND HER MEN are deliberately artificial, stylized, and burlesque. Note for instance the framings in THE GOLDEN COACH, in which Claude Renoir's camera is consciously and carefully placed to achieve symmetrical compositions. In comparison to the moving camera techniques of GRAND ILLUSION and RULES OF THE GAME that allowed him to capture the actions without missing the many crucial details in one, continuous long take, these three films (especially COACH and ELENA) may look very static. The acting style is also very much over the top.
One of the supplements, the Jacques Rivette's interview, in which Renoir repeatingly insists that "truth" or "reality" can be only achieved through artifice and artifacts of the artistic medium, is extremely revealing about Renoir's changing his style, and that though the apparent style has changed, his philosophy about filmmaking is remarkably consistent.
These three films are also created as comedies, though the contents are some of the most serious themes treated in cinema, and have a lot to do with cinema itself as a performing/representational art form. For each of the three films is profound analysis about performing in human life. FRENCH CANCAN is about the nature of performers, and the difficulties of that profession.Read more ›
The movie is Jean Renoir's tribute to show business, and he puts it on the screen with color, verve, humor, and humanity. There are wonderful performances by all the actors. The leads are Jean Gabin as Henri Danglard, the impresario; Francoise Arnoul as Nini, the girl who'll become a star; and Maria Felix as Lola de Castro, an overwhelmingly tempestuous beauty and Danglard's lover at the start. Gabin exudes confidence, worldly humor and dedication to show business. He even dances a bit. Arnoul is first rate, too. It looks like she was doing her own dances, and as an actress think of a young Leslie Caron with brains and charm.
The climax of the movie is the opening of the club, with Felix's star dance, comic songs, a whistler, a Danglar-discovered singer, all moving toward the introduction of the French cancan. The crises happen and are resolved. Then the cancan explodes. Dancing girls come bursting out from the stage, the front of the theater, through posters, down ropes from the balcony. The house swirls with the black tie and tails of the swells and the garish colors of the dancers' gowns. The cancan number lasts probably ten or fifteen minutes or so, all music and gaiety, all high kicks and splits.Read more ›
Renoir was in a mood to party. He'd survived an unhappy decade exiled in the Hollywood studio system. The director felt liberated, much like his homeland, France.
And so we have two bawdy celebrations of life and theater: "The Golden Coach," starring life force Anna Magnani (1953), and "French Cancan," a snappy and wise backstage comedy (1955). "Elena and Her Men" (1956) exudes romance with Ingrid Bergman as a savvy and desirable Polish princess toying with French politics. Plots are thin; spirits are high. All of the films are filled with boisterous, dizzying crowd scenes.
"The frames remind me of his father's paintings," Martin Scorsese says in an introduction to "Coach." "It's like standing in the presence of a great fresco and being overwhelmed. ... The use of color is extraordinary."
Alas, Renoir's palette has withered. All of these (restored) films show their age. Witness the sustained flashing in "Coach," abrupt shifts in color tone in "Elena" and the oddly bleached-out scenes in "Cancan." But making allowances, the visuals remain magnificent, memorable. The films are all full frame. Mono audio is bright and serviceable.
Renoir, who died in 1979, loved talking about his work. Clips of him are featured throughout the DVD set. The filmmaker sits with new wave director Jacques Rivette for a subtitled interview -- a monologue, really -- that's spread across the three DVDs. It's a terrific but long-winded lecture on the craft of filmmaking.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Three cinema greats! Many of the shots in these films look like paintings by the director's father: Pierre Auguste Renoir. Read morePublished 22 months ago by ciberbear
The films in this collection added substantially to my appreciation of Jean Renoir. I found "The Golden Coach" enjoyable, as well as interesting for its camera work. Read morePublished on January 20, 2014 by Frank
after hearing of the legend of jean renoir as a director and son of the famous painter,
these films are a disappointment. Read more
After the constraints of the US studio system, Renoir returns to France and more freedom. But this collection, while interesting for Renoir fans in showing his movement away from... Read morePublished on April 20, 2008 by Michael Brindley
GOLDEN COACH (1953) - 9/10
Golden Coach is the first film of a loosely put together trilogy with themes of love and life on the stage made by Jean Renoir. Read more
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