Louis Wipf

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Elena And Her Men Review


Good
1956's Elena and Her Men, the third in an informal trilogy of films Jean Renoir made upon returning from the U.S. and following his work here during the war, shares a common theme with its trilogy mates. This theme - the ways in which theater and life interact, and in which the territory of the first encroaches on the latter - in fact preoccupied Renoir throughout his career. In Elena and Her Men (unlike the other two films, The Golden Coach and French Cancan), the film's principals are not stage actors. Their performances are given in the political and social arenas; Renoir concludes the trilogy, fittingly, with the assertion that all the world is indeed a stage.

Elena and Her Men tells the story of the title woman, a Polish princess living a life of high style in Paris despite the secret fact of her poverty. She's widowed, and although men throw themselves at her, she's unfocused romantically and takes these suitors on as projects rather than potential mates; she sees her work as assisting them in achieving their potential, and when they do, she moves on. Her ability is linked to the daisies she distributes to her men as charms, and these magical daisies infallibly do the job.

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French Cancan Review


Excellent
The 19th-century Paris of Jean Renoir's remarkable 1955 film French Cancan is a distillation of the Paris that exists within the genre of the screen musical. It's a fantasy world in which laundry girls are propelled to stardom, absinthe is taken at sidewalk cafés, gentlemen live in hotels, and foreign princes slum alongside chorines in the still-unfashionable nightclubs of Montmartre. The film's look is central to the romantic vision of Paris that we conjure when we think of musicals; it's candy-colored, as sophisticated as a hat and tails, as light and sweet as meringue. Although An American in Paris had been released a few years before (Gigi followed by a few), French Cancan represents the most stylized vision of a certain dream incarnation of the City of Lights that had yet reached the screen.

Everything about French Cancan is, in fact, exquisitely French. (In this the film echoes its director's wish to reconnect with his public, having left France for America following the public vilification of 1939's Rules of the Game and having returned to his homeland with this film.) The movie tells the fictionalized story of the opening of Paris's notorious Moulin Rouge, an event marked by the rehabilitation of the scandalous cancan, a dance of a previous era that revealed rather much more of the dancers' lower halves than was deemed proper. In this fantasy Paris, an impresario named Danglard (Jean Gabin), magically gifted with the ability to spot talent among common working men and women and steer them toward their deserved fame, happens upon a young woman named Nini (Françoise Arnoul) who exhibits no aspirations, few inhibitions, and a real gift for dance. His attention to - and subsequent affair with - Nini arouses the mercurial jealousy of the statuesque belly dancer Lola (María Félix), whom he previously nurtured and with whom he is currently sharing a bed; add Danglard's money man, also in love with Lola, Nini's working class boyfriend, a prince who loves Nini, and assorted dancers, mothers, rival artists, and best friends, and you have a love roundelay of operatic breadth.

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