French Cancan

"Excellent"

French Cancan Review


The 19th-century Paris of Jean Renoir's remarkable 1955 film French Cancan is a distillation of the Paris that exists within the genre of the screen musical. It's a fantasy world in which laundry girls are propelled to stardom, absinthe is taken at sidewalk cafés, gentlemen live in hotels, and foreign princes slum alongside chorines in the still-unfashionable nightclubs of Montmartre. The film's look is central to the romantic vision of Paris that we conjure when we think of musicals; it's candy-colored, as sophisticated as a hat and tails, as light and sweet as meringue. Although An American in Paris had been released a few years before (Gigi followed by a few), French Cancan represents the most stylized vision of a certain dream incarnation of the City of Lights that had yet reached the screen.

Everything about French Cancan is, in fact, exquisitely French. (In this the film echoes its director's wish to reconnect with his public, having left France for America following the public vilification of 1939's Rules of the Game and having returned to his homeland with this film.) The movie tells the fictionalized story of the opening of Paris's notorious Moulin Rouge, an event marked by the rehabilitation of the scandalous cancan, a dance of a previous era that revealed rather much more of the dancers' lower halves than was deemed proper. In this fantasy Paris, an impresario named Danglard (Jean Gabin), magically gifted with the ability to spot talent among common working men and women and steer them toward their deserved fame, happens upon a young woman named Nini (Françoise Arnoul) who exhibits no aspirations, few inhibitions, and a real gift for dance. His attention to - and subsequent affair with - Nini arouses the mercurial jealousy of the statuesque belly dancer Lola (María Félix), whom he previously nurtured and with whom he is currently sharing a bed; add Danglard's money man, also in love with Lola, Nini's working class boyfriend, a prince who loves Nini, and assorted dancers, mothers, rival artists, and best friends, and you have a love roundelay of operatic breadth.

Love, of course, is France's national preoccupation, at least so far as the big screen goes, but what makes French Cancan so especially Gallic is the sophistication of its details - not just the champagne cocktails and acres of lace, but the respect the man on the street accords such artistes as a whistler Danglard discovers, an aging dance instructor who still is made up like a chorus girl, the belly dancer who insists on royal treatment and whose criminal displays of temper are explained away as manifestations of passion and artistic temperament. This sophistication extends to Danglard's romantic indiscretions; American audiences, in particular, may be surprised at the very non-Hollywood denouement of the movie's central romance.

More than anything else, French Cancan is about the life of the theater and of those held in its sway. Its songs emerge in that context - before audiences at the Moulin Rouge and other nightclubs - and its abiding central conflict, for all its characters, is the tension of resolving the life of the stage with "real" life. Renoir suggests that, for those compelled to entertain, the distinction is hopelessly blurred; his Nini, whose story the film most closely follows, finds in the film's finale that the stage is the only place in which she truly lives.

Renoir was, of course, among the very greatest of directors, and his French Cancan unfolds with a marvelous ease. The dance numbers are enviably clear, the characters sketched with a master's economy. The film's finale, in which the Moulin Rouge opens triumphantly with the much-anticipated cancan, is the sort of screen marvel of which no director today is capable: it's frantic yet deftly controlled, personal yet grandly conceived, and it leaves you elated. It's a true spectacle; Renoir suggests that, potentially, for those involved in theater, all of life is.

The Criterion Collection has made French Cancan available as part of a three-disc DVD set that includes two more of his contemporaneous films that examine his life-as-theater aesthetic: The Golden Coach and Elena and Her Men. A virtual galaxy of special features place the films in context and provide a wealth of supporting materials.

Aka French Can-Can.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 102 mins

In Theaters: Monday 16th April 1956

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 20

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Henri Danglard, Françoise Arnoul as Nini, Anna Amendola as Esther Georges, Jean-Roger Caussimon as Baron Walter, Dora Doll as La Génisse, Giani Esposito as Prince Alexandre

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.