Thursday, May 14, 2009

Target #271: French Cancan (1954, Jean Renoir)

TSPDT placing: #426
Directed by: Jean Renoir
Written by: André-Paul Antoine (idea), Jean Renoir (adaptation)

A NOTE TO THE READER: This post is to rectify a previous omission. I originally watched French Cancan on January 14, 2009, but was unaware that it was on the TSPDT list. Thus, my statement that "I haven't yet been completely blown away by a Jean Renoir film" neglects my later review of The Grand Illusion (1937).

I haven't yet been completely blown away by a Jean Renoir film. The closest candidate so far was the wonderful A Day in the Country (1936), which unfortunately suffered the handicap of being unfinished. Even so, I find the director's films to be extraordinarily pleasant viewing, and I'd much sooner sit down for a Renoir than I would for, say, a Godard or Fellini film. French Cancan (1954) is a completely pleasant, and entirely unpretentious, musical comedy that goes by so breezily that you're apt to forget that you're watching the work of France's most respected filmmaker. Less concerned with cultural satire than The Rules of the Game (1939), the film is instead similar in tone to Elena and Her Men (1956), a completely inconsequential piece of cinema that is nonetheless a lot of fun to watch. Both of these films were shot in exquisite Technicolor, of which Renoir takes full advantage, filling the frame with glorious costumes, colours and people.

Henri Danglard (Jean Gabin) is a respected theatre producer who lives the high life, despite relying upon financial backers to sustain his extravagant lifestyle. A charming chap, and convincingly debonair given his age, Danglard shares the company of the beautiful but temperamental Lola de Castro (María Félix), into whose bed many have attempted to climb (and probably with little resistance). When Danglard woos a pretty young laundry-worker, Nini (Françoise Arnoul), into dancing the cancan for him, Lola is overrun with jealousy, and all sorts of anarchy takes place amidst this romantic rivalry. Meanwhile, a handsome European prince (Giani Esposito) offers Nini his hand in marriage, but she's not willing to make such a dishonest commitment, more inclined to stay with Danglard, who inevitably plots to discard her as soon as his next promising starlet comes along. Jean Gabin, who had previously worked with Renoir in the 1930s, is terrific in the main role, overcoming his mature age to succeed as a potential lover.

It's interesting to compare Hollywood films of the 1950s with their European counterparts. Thanks to the Production Code, most American romantic comedies kept the romance almost entirely platonic, whereas here Renoir's characters speak of sex and adultery as though it is a perfectly acceptable practice. Even the adorable Françoise Arnoul, who occasionally reminded me of Shirley MacLaine, is treated as an openly sexual women, and not just because her character specialises in a dance designed purely to display as much leg as possible. Like many of Renoir's films, the characters themselves aren't clearly defined, and so it's difficult to form an emotional attachment. Indeed, only in the final act does Danglard come clean with the extent to which he romantically exploits his dance recruits, though even this moment is overshadowed by the premiere show of the Moulin Rouge. Perhaps it is through his caricatures that Renoir is making a quip about bourgeois French society – that they're all hiding behind fallacious identities and intentions. Or am I looking too far into this quaint musical comedy?

Currently my #8 film of 1954:
1) Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
2) Animal Farm (Joy Batchelor, John Halas)
3) Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock)
4) Viaggio in Italia {Voyage in Italy} (Roberto Rossellini)
5) Sabrina (Billy Wilder)
6) The Glenn Miller Story (Anthony Mann)
7) The Maggie (Alexander Mackendrick)
8) French Cancan (Jean Renoir)
9) The Caine Mutiny (Edward Dmytryk)

1 comment:

Jump_Raven said...

You might be right that there is more going on beneath the surface, but does really matter Andrew. The movie is a lot of fun and provides great entertainment.

You still have yet to see the other film that makes up Renoir's 4 post-war films: The River, French Cancan, Elena And Her Man, and The Golden Coach. The last of which is on the list and you must see.