French Cancan DVD+Blu-ray
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Directed by Jean Renoir
Produced in 1955
Main Language - French with English subtitles
Edith Piaf, Francoise Arnoul, Jean Gabin
A Technicolor tour-de-force set in Belle Époque Paris, French Cancan brings the world of caberet to joyfully exuberant life. And the restored print looks wonderful, says Mike McCahill.
Some films are simply made for restoration. 1954's French Cancan, Jean Renoir’s triumphant return to his native France after an unhappy spell in Hollywood, proves surprisingly exuberant, for what is, in narrative terms, a tale of showbiz misappropriation - i.e. the cancan’s rediscovery as a knicker-flashing cash-cow - with some tricky sexual politics thrown in. The subject is put across in joyfully unrestrained fashion; practically the only thing missing is the exclamation point Baz Luhrmann addended to the title of Moulin Rouge!
Jean Gabin’s Danglard resembles the Simon Cowell of his day: a jaded impresario, whose interest (amongst other things) is piqued by Nini (Françoise Arnoul), the laundry girl he meets in a dive bar one night. Thoroughly smitten, the impresario is driven to construct not just a stage show but an entire edifice around her high-kicking, although his motives prove less pure than those of Nini’s other suitors: a baker boy so sensitive he weeps after making love among the baguettes, and the moneyed Prince who, after seeing Nini twirl, himself becomes enamoured.
Even before we get to the knicker-flashing – presented as being, in its own way, as scandalising as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – French Cancan remains a sexy, vibrant film, full of easy sensuality. Renoir is faultlessly open-handed, noting the Prince’s arrival with the same laissez-faire he’s earlier observed beggars and street entertainers and, in doing so, giving himself and his characters places to go. The advantage is the sheer life Renoir gets into the background: dogs wander on to stare at the camera; dancers emerge from dressing-room doors mid-quarrel, or are spotted washing in ‘nude-from-rear’ style.
Like Danglard, the director delights in ushering on those elements which generally secure full houses: extracts from popular comedy turns, an Edith Piaf performance. In every given scene, anything goes, which results in a film considerably less stage-bound than it might have been: indeed, with its gorgeous, pastel-hued craft granted renewed effervescence by this digital print, it remains a simple (if not entirely uncomplicated) pleasure, a knees-up, or a jouissance, as you prefer.
Mike McCahill on 21st September 2011
Author of 215 reviews
French Cancan is loosely based on the founding of the world famous Parisian cabaret club, the Moulin Rouge. This Technicolor tour-de-force, set in the Paris of the belle époque, brings to ravishing, dazzling life the world of Jean Renoir’s father, Pierre Auguste, and other Impressionists such as Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Manet, in one of the great films about the complex relationship between life and the theatre.
Featuring a cameo performance from Edith Piaf and culminating in one of the most spectacular dance scenes in all of cinema history, French Cancan combines truly exhilarating entertainment with remarkable human observation and depth of feeling.
The legendary Jean Gabin plays Danglard, mentor to, and lover of, the stage stars of 1890s Paris. When he discovers a naïve young laundress (Francoise Arnoul) dancing in a nightclub he is inspired by her talent to revive the forgotten cancan in a show that the whole of Paris, rich and poor, will never forget.
Based on the true story of Moulin Rouge founder Charles Zidler, Jean Renoir’s exuberant tale of an impresario’s commitment to his art is a masterpiece of Technicolor brilliance, which features luminaries of the 1950s Parisian café-concert scene, Edith Piaf and Patachou, as period artistes.
Length: 99 mins
Cat No: BFIB1118
Format: DVD+Blu-ray Colour
- 2 discs
- Brand new restoration presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
- The show must go on! The Joys of life by Jean Renoir (2010, 57 mins): documentary on the making of French Cancan
- Fully illustrated booklet with new essays, biographies and notes on the soundtrack.