Near the end of his long and celebrated career, master filmmaker Jean Renoir indulged his lifelong obsession with life-as-theater and directed The Golden Coach (1953), French Cancan (1955), and Elena and Her Men (1956), th... more »ree delirious films, infatuated with the past, love, and artifice. Awash in jubilant Technicolor, each film interweaves public display and private feelings through the talents of three immortal film icons#Anna Magnani, Jean Gabin, and Ingrid Bergman. The Criterion Collection is proud to present these three majestic films by Jean Renoir for the first time on DVD.« less
Renoir's color trilogy: funny, entertaining, yet profound
Toshifumi Fujiwara | Tokyo, Japan | 01/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The three color films that mark Jean Renoir's return to Europe might be surprising compared to his classics 30's films like RULES OF THE GAME, LA BETE HUMAINE, TONI or GRAND ILLUSION, with which Renoir became prominent as a master of realism. For instance, always preferring to shoot on location rather than in studio environments (TONI was one of the first major sound motion picture to be entrely shot on location with direct sound recording; a revolution at the time).
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. THE GOLDEN COACH and ELENA AND HER MEN are, among other things, political farces, based on the extremely cynical idea that politics are nothing else but a matter of performance. Arguably, only Renoir could depict those themes as light-hearted comedies.
Some notes should be made on the transfers of this new DVD edition. ELENA was shot with Eastmancolor film stock (one strip negative), and the transfer is created from the original negative. Excepts for optically-treated segments (dissolves and fade outs, fade ins) which show severe color fading, the DVD represents very much what the film should look like. And those color fadings are practically impossible to fix with today's technology.
THE GOLDEN COACH and FRENCH CANCAN were originally shot with 3-strips Technicolor cameras. This system requires 3 B/W negatives running simultaneously, each of them recording one primary color. So it is impossible to just scan the original negatives to get the most faithful images. The DVD transfers for these 2 films are created from interpositives. For FRENCH CANCAN, it seems that a vintage dye-transfer print was used, and though it shows certain damages caused by age, the DVD represents faithfully the texture and details such as the material quality of the clothings that can be only captured on a dye-transfer Technicolor print, as well as the rather pale, pastel-like color palette that Renoir and art director Max Douy intended to depict the period: the story takes place in the heights of impressionism paintings.
For THE GOLDEN COACH, the print used for the transfer is probably from the restoration and re-release in the early 90's (Martin Scorsese financed the American distribution; hence his introduction on the DVD). This restoration was important since before that, the film was virtually invisible, but nevertheless not a perfect one technically speaking. It does not have the richness of color of a dye-transfer Technicolor prints, particularly the reds and the blacks suffer a lot. Plus, certain shots, especially the extremely moving and revealing epilogue in which Renoir confesses through Camilla-Anna Magnani the sadness of working in performing arts, suffer a lot from the different shrinkage of each color-separation negatives. The colors are nearly dead, and they look out of focus. It's a pity that unlike the American studio's Technicolor classics with which a lot of financial and technical efforts are constantly made to put them back into shape, THE GOLDEN COACH, one of the greatest masterpieces of this color-format, is not yet properly restored.
Criterion has already put GRAND ILLUSION and RULES OF THE GAME on market with beautiful DVD editions. Now, watching this new DVD sets, and especially watching the supplement BBC documentary about Renoir's career after the 40's, I must say that now they have to publish Renoir's first color film THE RIVER, which is one of the less-known masterpiece of Renoir's as well as a key film for the evolution of his style, on a DVD edition as accomplished as these."
"Golden Coach" ruined by bad mastering at end
L. Irwin | Reston, VA USA | 08/06/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The DVD for "The Golden Coach" is for the most part fine, but the final minutes, which are crucial to the full impact of the film, are ruined by deplorable mastering. The scene appears to be out of focus and the colors are washed out to the point of barely being able make out what is happening. I believe Criterion made some kind of mastering error, because Martin Scorsese's introduction to the film explicitly refers to the wonderful restored ending of the film. Criterion should withdraw the DVD and offer a replacement."
French Cancan: Marvelous
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 08/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"French Cancan, one of three Renoir films packaged by Criterion as Stage and Spectacle, is a marvelous movie. The story is simple but the execution is amazing. A Belle Epoque impresario, down on his financial luck, is going to open a new club, the Moulin Rouge, with a new dance, the French cancan. He encounters a working girl and makes her a dancer. She'll become a star. There are several crises to overcome before that happens.
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. It's amazing when row after row of the dancers, moving toward the camera through the audience, leap up, legs extended straight foward and backward, backs arched, then land on the dance floor in full splits. I didn't know whether to shout or wince.
The last scene of the movie is outside the club, shot from the cobblestone street looking at the entrance. It's a medium shot and from the side street a happy, inebriated fellow in black tie and top hat staggers across, pauses to tip his hat at the camera, then staggers off. A completely charming ending.
This really is a marvelous movie. Peter Bogdanovich has a good filmed interview. He usually puts me off with the ego, the ascot and the dyed hair. But he does know movies, and his insights into Renoir and this movie are good. There are several extras, and the DVD transfer is first rate. --- The Golden Coach: What a charming movie. I started smiling at the opening curtain and the good feeling lasted to the end. The dialogue is often amusingly worldly with an epigrammatic style. The look of the movie is so lush and theatrical. And Anna Magnani is a powerhouse as Camilla. One critic said that watching one after the other of The Golden Coach, French Cancan and Elena and Her Men, the three movies in the Criterion Renoir pack, would create a sensory overload. He's right, I think. But taking each at a leisurely pace is proving very rewarding. The theater is life, Renoir says, and he's proving it in these three movies.
Renoir Brilliantly Expresses His Love for the Arts & Life...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 09/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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. This film is also a salutation to the French people as Renoir returns to to France after having fled during World War II and trying to make it in Hollywood. However, Renoir had much difficulty dealing with influential movie producers in Hollywood as they often kept Renoir under strict supervision. This supervision made Renoir feel somewhat strangled when it cames to artistic freedom, which is also expressed in this trilogy.
The Golden Coach takes place in 18th century Peru where the Spanish viceroy of Peru has purchased a golden coach from Italy in order to symbolically display the might of the colony. A small Italian theater troupe trails the Golden Coach as they voyage on the same ship across the Atlantic to the new world. When the theater troupe arrives to the town where they have been promised a job with several luxuries they find a pitiful small town with no commodities as promised in the employment letter. Deprived of hope they begin to build a small stage where they can perform and maybe earn enough to return to Europe.
The theater troupes unspoken star is Camilla (Anna Magnani) whom most men find delicately alluring as her mere presence absorbs all the attention from the audience as she flourish on the stage. Camilla's charisma attracts three prominent men's attention as all three fall in love with her. The protective Spanish soldier, Felipe (Paul Campbell), traveled with her across the Atlantic as he tries to charm her and win her over. The fiery and infamous toreador Ramon (Riccardo Rioli) who has been spellbound by Camilla's stage performance tries to sway her into marriage. Lastly, the Spanish viceroy Ferdinand (Duncan Lamont) is drawn to her as he finds himself being prepared to give up the Golden Coach to her. Felipe, Ramon, and Ferdinand find themselves in trouble as they are all attracted to Camilla who never will belong to one of them as she loves the stage.
Jean Renoir hired a small Italian family circus to perform in the film as the theater troupe. The only film actor in the theater troupe is Anna Magnani who performs brilliantly as Renoir entirely built the film around her. The film becomes a tribute to Italian theater as much of the film surrounds theater and the mise-en-scene is symbolically a theater set. However, the strongest tribute to theater comes through Camilla's love for the stage and the audience's love for her. Renoir was also influenced by Vivaldi's music which inspired the script's Italian zest, which offers a terrific cinematic experience that is both witty, warm, and full of valuable lessons.
FRENCH CANCAN (1955) - 9/10
The second part of Jean Renoir trilogy about the love for the stage is a colorful story about the vaudeville manager Henri Danglard (Jean Gabin) and his rejuvenation of an old frolicsome dance called the cancan. Danglard is more of an artist than a manager as his ultimate goal is self-expression, which he projects to the audience through the performances of a large number of artists. These artist have all been discovered through Danglard's incredible instincts to find talent among ordinary people and turn them into celebrities over night. The skillful Danglard also loves the critical audience as he seeks their approval through a violent flow of applause.
The story begins in successful cafe, Le Paravent Chinois, with vaudeville performances that heavily depend on Lola de Castro's (María Félix) performance. Lola is also Danglard's mistress, but what the audience does not know is that Danglard spends every penny to improve the show in order to conquer the audience's approval. This leads Le Paravent Chinois into bankruptcy, but it does not bother Danglard as he is aware of the existing financial potential in Paris. This means that Danglard is self-assured in that he will find another sponsor for his new project, which is the French Cancan. The quest for the French Cancan becomes a difficult struggle as Danglard must face jealous mistresses and boyfriends, physical harm, and much more. However, this does not prevent Danglard to continue to strive to create his final masterpiece, which will become the initiation of the Moulin Rouge.
Jean Renoir's French Cancan becomes a root for self-expression as he nose dives into his own artistic talent where he uses the cancan dance as an allegory for self-expressive freedom and artistic originality. The film also became a reunion between two cinematic titans, Gabin and Renoir, as they made some brilliant films together almost two decades ago. Gabin becomes Renoir's alter ego in this cinematic event as he displays Renoir's love for the arts through rejuvenation of the cancan. It should be mentioned that Gabin was personally offended by Renoir's escape to United States during World War II and his delayed return to France after the war. Nonetheless, these two men came together and created a brilliant cinematic experience that honors the arts and stage performances.
ELENA AND HER MEN (1956) - 8/10
Elena and Her Men is the final film in Renoir's trilogy of stage performances. This is a light-hearted film with serious undertones loosely based on General Georges Boulanger's attempt to reverse the popularity of the Republic in France with his own popularity in the 1880s. The history books reveal the truth of General Georges Boulanger's failed coup as he was strongly supported by Orleanist and Bonapartist princes. In this story, General Georges Boulanger is renamed General Rollan (Jean Marais), but the story is focused on the main character Elena (Ingrid Bergman).
The liberal Polish Princess Elena seeks to change the world for the better by her standards by inspiring men to pursue their dreams and urge them to seek a higher calling. In the initial scene it becomes apparent that Elena has already succeeded once as a composer and has received an immense career boost through Elena's' encouragement, but the composer's marriage proposal is declined by the self-reliant Elena. Elena's independence and liberal mind is noticeable as she mingles on the crowded streets of Paris as the people celebrate General Rollan's return from a successful campaign. Elena is strongly affected by the people's cheers for General Rollan as she begins to pursue a way to meet General Rollan. When they meet it is obvious that General Rollan has strong affections for Elena, which will play a large part in the films outcome.
Film viewers that have seen other films by Jean Renoir will easily detect the mise-en-scene as it reproduces a staged atmosphere, which produces theater atmosphere. Nonetheless, it will not ruin the film as Renoir tells an intelligent story with different plots and schemes as he also did in Rules of the Game (1939), which has several similarities with Elena and Her Men. These different plots are all told in a delicate satirical light as they convey a serious message that will offer much thought for the viewers that engage themselves in Elena and Her Men.
Criterion does a stunningly skillful work to put these three films together in a box that symbolically matches the colors presented in the films. Any film enthusiast will recognize the good work done by the Criterion Company. Lastly, the additional information on the DVDs will further the cinematic education of the audience. "
Party time for Renoir
Flipper Campbell | Miami Florida | 08/25/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Early this year, Criterion issued the definitive DVD of Jean Renoir's 1939 classic "The Rules of the Game." Now, the label lightens up with "Stage and Spectacle," a boxed set that makes a trilogy out of the splashy Technicolor films Renoir made upon returning to Europe in the mid-1950s.
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.
The BBC documentary on Renoir's career that began on "The Rules of the Game" DVD continues here, covering mostly the director's Hollywood years under the thumb of Darryl F. Zanuck and other studio chiefs. The making of the three joyous films found in this set serves as a happy ending, of sorts."