English Title: Elena and Her Men
Original Title: Elena et les hommes
Country: France, Italy
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
Director: Jean Renoir
Cinematography: Claude Renoir
Music: Joseph Kosma
A Jean Renoir vaudeville stars Ingrid Bergman as a Polish princess-cum-widow Elena Sokorowska in pre-WWI Paris, merrily philandering with her suitors, until they are pinned down between two, the radical party general François Rollan (Marais) who is a candidate for the prime minister of the country and a romantic count Henri de Chevincourt (Ferrer).
My second Renoir’s film after THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939), ELENA AND HER MEN is on a splendid parade of poly-chromatic pageantry with exquisite costumes and interior decoration, whereas the movie is indulged in its own flamboyance and fecklessness, not even Juliette Gréco’s superb rendition could ease the despondent frown.
Maybe it was Renoir’s intention to make a film pandering for French audience and foreign Gallo-savants at its time, but the story is utterly not engaging at all, all the rapid talking aside, sundry characters popping up and romping around inordinately, which causes great trouble to comprehend what is going on on the screen, soon or later, all of them will inexplicably lapses into ridiculous buffoons, and more unsatisfying is that there is never enough room for viewers to savor the farce.
Bergman has a gregarious presence in this light-hearted rom-com, a skip-deep socialite can equally excel in conquering any man she wants and appeasing any man she deserts, with her charm daisy. Two besotted gentlemen, either the aristocratic and uptight Marias or the more characterless Ferrer, fail to make strong impact other than a convenient pawn to be blindly swept off his feet by Elena ever since the first glance.
Supporting roles galore, Jean Richard is Rollan’s guard Hector, fights for the love of Lolotte (Noël), Elena’s young maid, with Eugéne (Jouanneau), Elena’s soon-to-be son-in-law, and truly, Elena is going to remarry with shoe businessman Mr. Martin-Michaud (Bertin), and their will be a double wedding with Eugéne marries his fiancée Denise (Nadal), things are all mismanaged under a political turbulence which one might find it difficult to decipher with its fast pace. Not to mention Rollan’s quartet political corp, things could not be more messier.
Renoir certainly is still good at his trick with various characters bungle together within a carefully measured frame, but it doesn’t change much for the haphazard love-triangle, in the end, one can only wish it could end as soon as possible, since our rationality determines that it doesn’t worth all the effort.