Directed by: Jean Renoir
Countries & Regions: France
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 99 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 7 November 2011
Cat No: BFIB1118
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Cast: Edith Piaf , Francoise Arnoul , Jean Gabin , Giani Esposito , Andre Claveau , Annik Morice , Jean-Roger Caussimon , Patachou , Dora Doll , Maria Felix , Valentine Tessier , Franco Pastorino , Philippe Clay , Anna Amendola , Max Dalban , Pierre Olaf , Jean Raymond
Jean Renoir directs this musical comedy drama set amidst the glittering nightlife of late 19th-century Paris. Jean Gabin stars as theatre... Read More
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.