Francesco Alliata

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The Golden Coach Review


Extraordinary
Jean Renoir's 1953 The Golden Coach begins with the simultaneous arrival, at a remote, 18th-century Spanish outpost in Peru, of a coach made of solid gold - intended for use by the viceroy (Duncan Lamont) at official functions of the state - and a traveling Italian commedia dell'arte troupe whose star is the tempestuous beauty Camilla (Anna Magnani). Like the troupe's manager Felipe (Paul Campbell) and the colony's celebrity matador Ramon (Riccardo Rioli), the viceroy soon falls in love with Camilla. This colony, however, is one in which the Catholic Church holds the reins of power, and actors are not necessarily esteemed in clerical eyes. When the viceroy makes an extravagant gift of the golden coach to Camilla, turmoil ensues.

The Golden Coach was the first of a loose trilogy of films made by Renoir following his return to Europe from America, where he had worked during the war. The theme of all three films (the others are French Cancan and Elena and Her Men) is Renoir's lifelong preoccupation with the ways in which the life of the theater mirrors that of the world beyond the proscenium arch, and in The Golden Coach this theme finds its most magnificent expression within the trilogy, and perhaps the most magnificent of any film. In this highly stylized and artificial world, the actors perform on- and off-stage, the viceroy and assorted nobility within the colonial government perform for their subjects and for one another, and the distinction between performance and life dissolves into a richly layered construction of artifice. The mechanics of the narrative click and whirl like clockwork, so that you're caught up in the dynamics of this deconstruction of reality with an ease that belies Renoir's supreme mastery. His drama builds gradually into theater - even the sets become more formalized - until, somewhere midway in the film, Camilla announces to her audience that act two has concluded; from that moment forward all the world is a stage.

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