Elena And Her Men Movie Review
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.
Elena (played by Ingrid Bergman, who works very comfortably here in French) has just finished one such project when a war hero named General Rollin (Jean Marais) makes a triumphant return to Paris, where the streets are ringing with his praise. Despite having just accepted a marriage proposal, for financial reasons, to a wealthy, older industrialist, Elena takes up with this hero and his best friend Henri (Mel Ferrer); both fall in love with her. When Rollin is called upon to assume leadership of France, Elena accepts his destiny as her next project. Meanwhile, romantic complications blossom everywhere: Elena's fiancé becomes jealous, his son, although engaged to another, falls in love with Elena's maid, a soldier does too, and Rollin's jealous girlfriend follows her hero everywhere and watches his every move. This political and romantic intrigue soon reaches a dizzying velocity, and class distinctions, as well as the line of separation between public and private life, become hopelessly blurred.
It's all very enjoyable, Bergman especially, and like the other films it's beautiful to see and gloriously cinematic. But the resemblance it bears to Renoir's great Rules of the Game is more than passing, and I think this detracts. Rules of the Game, made in 1939, was Renoir's last French film before he left for America; a really searing social comedy about cultural mores, the film was met with outrage in France upon its release, and was subsequently banned by the Occupation. Elena and Her Men, while full of felicities, treats its similar material in a much more lighthearted way, and watching it it's impossible not to speculate that Renoir, who was anxious to reconnect with his French public, had made in it a kind of Rules of the Game lite. Few critics or viewers would argue that Elena is on the same exalted par.
Still, the comparison being made is that of Renoir to Renoir, one of the very greatest of screen directors, and it may be that it's only in this context that Elena and Her Men could be seen to be lacking anything at all. The Criterion Collection has made all three films available in a DVD box set - accompanied by a real wealth of extras, and produced with that company's usual, peerless attention to quality - that restores Renoir's full vision. Taken together, they're a joy.
Aka Eléna et les hommes.