Archive for the ‘Jean Renoir’ Category

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“The Golden Coach”/”Le Carrosse d’or,” dir. Jean Renoir

April 14, 2010

Typically described as a love letter to acting and the theater, this is one of Renoir’s finest, latter-day films. It’s a credit to Renoir’s humanism that his characters can be selfish, impetuous and jealous to an unflattering degree yet remain very sympathetic. It’s even more striking how this sensibility’s reflected in his compositions – they recall the inclusive, democratic nature of his father’s day-in-the-life paintings, where every person is an equally important element in the picture. Like The Rules of the Game, the long shots are often multi-layered compositions that constantly suggest a film divided into multiple worlds – not just in class, but even from stage to reality. The fake mirror gag, the way Camilla, the lead actress, is observed from off-stage, the way characters observe the opposite end of society in rooms or courtyards through partially obstructed windows and doorways…all of this builds to an ending that’s almost cruel in the way it separates the audience from the performers, or “the so-called real life” from the stage.

But up until then, Camilla and the others rarely recognize these divisions, and as they move back and forth between the two, their behavior smears the distinction between performance and reality. The way Camilla expresses her anger through a guitar, the king’s obligatory wig, the obvious refusals to mingle between classes…even backstage, when the actors dress, the dividing sheets are gorgeously designed like the backdrops seen in their shows. It’s a constant reminder of how these people act out their perceived roles in real life as well as on stage.

Actually, the more I think about it, the ending feels more sobering than cruel. If Renoir’s insisting on divisions between the stage and real life, maybe it’s because performance in life is doomed to dissatisfaction. At one point, the king laments that “no one dreams of anything else. Where gold commands, laughter vanishes.” He’s referring to the roles everyone’s mapped out for themselves at the expense of living.

Performance on stage is a different matter. Early in the film, Camilla’s bitter, tired and disillusioned with acting. However, her bitterness is based in professionalism. Even when their financial potential looks particularly grim after a successful performance, a fact that’s hardly lost on Camilla, she returns to the stage time and time again. Not surprisingly, Camilla’s most revealing moments often deal with conscious play-acting – whether it’s mocking societal manners over dinner with the king or, more significantly, when she’s on the other side of a performance, enjoying a bullfight.

Self-consicous stunts can be fairly hollow, as if being self-referential alone will somehow deliver so much more, but that’s never the case here.

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