France / Italy, 1952 (MIFF 1954, Programme 6)
Director: Jean Renoir
To an 18th century Spanish province in South America comes an Italian company of "Commedia dell'arte" players headed by-Camilla, the richly temperamental star of the troupe. Camilla is half in love with a young officer, but meets two other contenders for her favours: a locally idolised bullfighter; and the Viceroy of the province, whose attentions flatter her and who promises to present her with the beautiful new golden coach which is the prerogative of his high office. The Viceroy's council threatens to depose him if he gives away the fabulous coach to a mere actress, and he surrenders to the Council's demands. Camilla despises him for this weakness and rides off in the coach. The impasse is resolved when the three lovers gather at Camilla's house, where she rejects them all, returning to the world she really loves &ndash: the make &ndash: believe world of the stage. And she gives the coach to the Church.
The English version of this film (there is also a French and an Italian, each having been shot in the original language, not dubbed) presents, like most Renoir films, something of a puzzle. The story is poorly constructed and the playing &ndash: particularly that of the three admirers &ndash: poor, not to say amateurish; the accents are hopelessly mixed and the dialogue is, in parts, trite. Yet, as in “The River”, there are most rewarding compensations. The decor and costumes are beautifully apt and gay; the color photography (by Claude Renoir) is of a are subtlety; and the choice of Vivaldi's music inspired. Renoir has concentrate his attention on the background of the “Commedia dell'arte” players &ndash: the child tumblers, the old woman clown, the acrobats &ndash: and conveyed the group's colourful existence with tenderness and complete ease. He has, too, produced moments of farcical satire in his treatment of the Viceroy's court &ndash: a corrupt and ineffectual gang of aristocratic hangers &ndash: on &ndash: that is somewhat reminiscent of “La Regle du Jeu”. Though the performances are on the whole rather indifferent, the central one by Anna Magnani is magnificent, triumphantly holding the film together. In the sort of extravagant comedy role that suits her perhaps better than any other, Magnani plays Camilla with her incomparable exuberance and pathos: a great performance.
A balance sheet of the virtues and faults of “The Golden Coach” must inevitably give a rather misleading impression of the film's quality: as is so often the case with Renoir's films, the whole is far more successful than a sum of the parts. Renoir's insight and humanity seem to shine even through the technically most inadequate material.