Somewhat misunderstood and underappreciated on its original release in the early 1950s, Renoir's adaptation, or revision, of Prosper Merrimee's Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement, has, over the years, come to enjoy something of a cult-classic status. It has been hailed by Andrew Sarris as "a glorious experience", by Francois Truffaut as "the noblest and most refined film ever made" and by Eric Rohmer as "an exquisite jewel box". Unfortunately, amidst all the cumulative acclaim, there have been precious few available prints for audiences to (re-)assess this rediscovered gem.
Within the framework of Renoir's filmmaking career, The Golden Coach signals the beginning of the grand auteur's final phase, coming after his ex-patriated Hollywood period (1940-1947) and just following his sojourn in India to film his acclaimed version of Rumer Godden's The River. The Golden Coach additionally represents the first installment of what has come to be known as Renoir's 'theatre trilogy', together with French Cancan (1954) and Elena et les hommes (1956). each opus in this series offers a supreme example of the comedy of appearances, the masquerade that intertwines life and art, the fable that, with amusing seriousness, juxtaposes how we act with what we are.
To personify the overlay between surface behaviour and inner essence in The Golden Coach, Renoir selected as his principle player the dynamic diva of Italian neo-realist cinema, Anna Magnani, who here portrays Camilla, the leading lady of a travelling commedia dell'arte troupe stationed in the wilds of 18th century Peru. As the director himself has observed, "Many people were astonished that an actress famous for her portrayal of stormy emotion should have been used in a piece more suited to a Milanese puppet-show." Fleshing out the role=playing contours of Camilla, the volatile actress pursued by a trio of ardent male suitors, Magnani creates a perfect, precarious balance between poise and passion, the kind of superbly self-aware star performance we might associate with Marlene Dietrich in The Scarlet Empress, Bette Davis in All About Eve or Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon.
The film shown here is the English language version which was personally preferred by Renoir who has stated: "in the English version, Magnani's speech is absolutely delicious, her Italian accent is very pronounced, very strong and it gives the English words an absolutely unexpected resonance." MFF '93 is pleased to present Jean Renoir's 'other' masterpiece, The Golden Coach, in all its emotional and creative splendour. Enjoy the journey.