The Golden Coach (1953, Jean Renoir)

“Don’t waste your time in the so-called real life.”

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One of my new favorite movies! Rivette must’ve dug this one, being about theatrical performances bleeding into real life, with characters and camera always behind and in front of screens and fences, sheets and curtains.

An Italian theater company arrives “in a Spanish colony of Latin America” in the early 1700’s and attempt to build a theater and make a living amongst locals who care more about bullfighting. Camilla, the lead actress of the group (Anna Magnani in an amazing, vibrant performance) entertains the affections of three fans: the local star bullfighter, the viceroy (who offers her the titular coach) and troupe member Felipe, who wants to settle down in the wilds of America. With the threat of duels, revolution, prison and worse, Camilla contrives a way out, donating her coach to the church and retreating back behind the curtain, letting all three men off the hook. Movie (this version of it, anyway) is in English, with a wild mix of accents.

In interview, Renoir says he was highly concerned with color (it is brilliant – see shot above), with Anna’s wonderful acting, with being able to change the script and with playing around with the nature of acting, on the stage and in real life.

Renoir: “My principal collaborator on this film was the late Antonio Vivaldi. I wrote the script while listening to records of his music, and his wit and sense of drama led me on to developments in the best tradition of the Italian theater.”

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Andrew Sarris: “To claim, as reviewers at the time did, that Renoir had failed to produce a convincing narrative, is to scorn Matisse and Picasso for not painting plausible pictures.”

Andre Bazin: “Renoir directs his actors as if he liked them more than the scenes they are acting and preferred the scenes which they interpret to the scenario from which they come. This approach accounts for the disparity between his dramatic goals and the style of acting, which tends to turn our attention from his aims. The style is added to the script like rich paint liberally added to a line drawing…”

J. Rosenbaum: “As Bazin suggests, the actors are employed as if they were different kinds of paint, freely spilling over the initial designs, but it’s worth adding that the colors are employed on occasion as if they were actors – a splash of yellow or blue in an incidental decor carrying all the allure of a memorable extra.”

Rosenbaum again:

All three films are comic period fantasies in dazzling color, offering a kind of continuous, bustling choreography in which shifting power relations between upper and lower classes and between spectators and performers literally turn the world into a kind of theater. In this respect, they might be said to offer more abstract and less politically anchored versions of the films Renoir made during the thirties. Unlike their predecessors, they’re deliberately removed from real life. And given the sense of political as well as the personal defeat that came with the war and his departure from France, followed by a lengthy period of living in exile, they’re unable to hide a subtle aftertaste of regret lurking behind all that gaiety – a sense that utopia can only be found, if at all, on a soundstage, not in the Popular Front that once meant so much to Renoir. This sadness only occasionally rises to the surface, as in the memorable exchanges between actors Camilla and Don Antonio at the very end: “Felipe, Ramon, the viceroy… disappeared.” “Now they are part of the audience. Do you miss them?” “A little.”

Scorsese says there were versions in Italian and French, and that the ending (which looks like it came from a degraded print) was newly restored in the 90’s.

Don Antonio, leader of the actors group, played by Odoardo Spadaro of Divorce, Italian Style:
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Rome’s Cinecitta studio was equipped for sync sound recording in the 50’s? You wouldn’t know it from the Italian movies I’ve seen.

A few comic reminders that we’re in the 18th century: “Tomorrow papa is being bled with leeches, the day after I have my purge.”

Cameo by French actor Jean Debucourt as the bishop, of Epstein’s silent Fall of the House of Usher, Cocteau’s Eagle With Two Heads and Max Ophüls’ Madame de…

The three men, below from left to right:
– Ramon the bullfighter – Riccardo Rioli, whose film acting career began the year before, and ended the year after with a small part in a Mankiewicz picture.
– The Viceroy – Scottish Duncan Lamont, charming in this, later in Mutiny on the Bounty and Quatermass and the Pit.
– Felipe: American Paul Campbell, who was a beef-and-cheesy enough actor to get himself cast in The Deadly Mantis. He lived long enough to have seen the MST3K version – here’s hoping he did.

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The great Anna Magnani plays Camilla. Star of Mamma Roma, Bellissima and Rome, Open City, she also beat out Kate Hepburn and three other Americans for the 1955 Oscar for The Rose Tattoo.
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“Where is truth? Where does the theater end and life begin?”

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