Title: French Cancan
Country: France, Italy
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Director: Jean Renoir
Music: Georges Van Parys
Cinematography: Michel Kelber
FRENCH CANCAN is a highly pleasurable extravaganza of Gallo musical and comedy from the cinematic titan Jean Renoir, placed within his marvellous oeuvre, the film doesn’t have a chance to be a standout, but compared with its follow-up ELENA AND HER MEN (1956), Renoir’s star-vehicle for Ingrid Bergman, this film stuns in its spectacular scenic management of its pay-off moment, the much anticipated French can-can performance, which transpires to be a truly sensational delight and a sumptuous visual spectacle.
The story follows a corny template, Henri Danglard (Gabin), is a theatre producer and proprietor of “Le Paravent Chinois” cafe, whose business is in jeopardy, so he intends to revive the once-famous cancan dance as a strategy to strike back at the Moulin Rouge, accidentally meets a local washerwoman Nini (Arnoul), Henri is amazed by her dancing skills and sees her potential, and decides to make her the star of the show, they engage in a seemingly chaste relationship which soon escalates into mutual attraction, after that, chain reactions of jealousies, from Henri’s current mistress Lola (Félix) and Nini’s boyfriend Paulo (Pastorino), unrequited love pursuit (Esposito, as the Prince Alexandre from Egypt) and betrayals duly ensue, but, no worries, it is a French comedy, all but mirth will dissipate thanks to the final opening show with the elongated cancan choreography, it leaves you a gratifying smile on the face with the aftertaste of amazement and gaiety.
The film is shot in a vivid palette with fluid editing to present a top-notch viewing experience which doesn’t weather too much 60 years later, also the production team carves out a moderate setting but embedded with haute couture sumptuousness, and Édith Piaf also contributes a cameo for a sonorous rendition.
The tone is undeviatingly light-hearted, also boiled over with large ensemble uproar and farcical elements to whitewash the usual targets of a middle-aged womanizer’s moral criterion and the gold-digger behavior of low-ranking class. Gabin extends his leading man élan to be the savior of a young girl’s dead-end life, stately debonair, but no hesitation to be a heartbreaker when the ugly time arrives. Arnoul is a talented dancer but doesn’t acquire her own personality in the film, while Félix, steals the limelight first with her belly-dancing, subsequently with her acerbic bluntness, she never allow herself to be beaten up and always can find a way out under any circumstances, that is a winner’s attitude!
Broadly FRENCH CANCAN is Renoir’s more entertainment-proffering output with an appealing flair of being flamboyant and “French”, you will not necessarily feel overwhelmed by its content, but in the end of day, the cancan dancers and festive music can truly soothe your nerve, perk up your spirit and inveigle your toes to move a bit on the floor, which is a great achievement on its own merits indeed.