Day 121: Seriously! Is French Cancan a masterpiece? + “Your wife’s home and your house is on fire” + Elena et les homes 1956

Seriously! Is French Cancan a masterpiece?

I have now watched French Cancan again – the third time -trying to work out how such an overripe, exaggerated, film could be regarded a masterpiece.

If you wrote down the dramatic scenes, especially in the second half, and put them together, in a script for an episode of a modern daytime soap opera, you’d be laughed out of the room.

I wonder if, when critics/academics fall in love with a director, they start accepting everything they do with less of an eye for what isn’t done well. French Cancan, second and third time around, is not a masterpiece. Each time I saw it, I enjoyed more of the comedy, but it’s a flawed, happy, energetic film which isn’t exceptional on any level. Surely a masterpiece has to be exceptionally on every level!

The fact that he is making a musical comedy (so named in the opening credit, A comedie musicale by Jean Renoir) apparently allows Renoir to revel in all the ridiculous machinations he would have previously hated as a realist, an expressionist and a visual poet.


Henri and Lola are lovers. Henri is in debt to Walter. Walter cares for Lola. Henri see Nini and dances with her. His respect for her dancing ultimately leads to love. Lola is jealous and creates a scene in front of all of Paris – just like Andre in Rules. Nini is also in a committed relationship with someone of her own station. She then falls in love with Henri and then is courted by the Prince. The Prince funds Henri’s theatre based on the fact that he thinks this will give him a chance with Nini. When he’s made aware that Nini loves Henri, he pulls a gun and shoots himself. Nini is torn between three lovers. Lola and Walter come back to Henri and offer to support the theatre while the seriousness of the Prince’s injury is unknown. Lola begs to resume her relationship with Henri.

The next plot points lead to a resolution which (obviously) celebrates commedia dell’arte by celebrating its worst facets.

Does this sound like a masterpiece or an average film which is occasionally brilliant and sometimes terrible -which even in 1955 is overcooked, even if it is tribute to, and representation of, a time and genre from a previous era?

“Your wife’s home and your house is on fire”

After four days and nights of looking after the children, I’m beat. The night time calls are the hardest.

Elena et les homes 1956

It’s time for my tenth Jean Renoir film. I read so much about it that like French Cancan (1955), I’m really looking forward to it – and what a cast, Ingrid Bergman and Mel Ferrer, Jean Marais and Juliette Gréco. I’ve read too much about these later films – accidentally – while researching the previous films.

Whereas, I watched The Southerner (1945) and The River (1951) over the last three nights with no knowledge of how they are regarded by critics and academics – but aware they don’t occur in the Top 100 Films in Sight and Sounds / BFI 2012 Poll – which meant I brought few or no preconceived ideas to the film-watching experience.

With The Golden Coach (1950), French Cancan and Elena, I remember the words of Tim Milne in Roud’s Dictionary, and Richard Brody’s (a writer for The New Yorker since 1999) in a New Yorker article where they discussed or mentioned Renoir’s American and post-American period, talking about, respectively:

“the three golden masterpieces of the latter half of his career: La Carrozza d’Oro, French Cancan and Elena et les Hommes.”

and Brody writing about the end of Jean Renoir’s American period, concluding that although he kept living in California, Renoir,

“travelled to France for another run of masterworks – including The Golden Coach, French Cancan, Elena and the Men.”

No pressure, except that I’ve brought a dozen preconceptions to these two films where I brought none to The Southerner (1945) and The River (1951) which were both excellent on so many levels.