The Golden Coach (Le Carrosse d'or) [DVD]
Director : Jean Renoir
Screenplay : Jean Renoir and Jack Kirkland and Renzo Avanzo and Giulio Macchi (based on the play Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement by Prosper Mérimée)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1953
Stars : Anna Magnani (Camilla), Odoardo Spadaro (Don Antonio), Nada Fiorelli (Isabella), Dante (Arlequin), Duncan Lamont (Ferdinand, Le Viceroy), George Higgins (Martinez), Ralph Truman (Duc de Castro), Gisella Mathews (Marquise Irene Altamirano), Raf De La Torre (Le Procureur), Elena Altieri (Duchesse de Castro), Paul Campbell (Felipe), Riccardo Rioli (Ramon, le Toreador)
The Golden Coach (Le Carrosse d’or) was the first film Jean Renoir made after returning from a more than decade-long stint in Hollywood after the disastrous reception of The Rules of the Game (1939), which is now considered his masterpiece.
While some critics have tried valiantly to unearth thematic and aesthetic continuities between his pre-Hollywood and post-Hollywood films, most agree that it is best to see them as distinctly different phases in the career of the great French director, almost to the point that he seems like two different artists. It’s as if Renoir disappeared from the continent and returned 14 years later with an entirely different set of preoccupations. While the Jean Renoir of the 1930s was an astute social critic, making sharp-edged black-and-white films that took to the heart the nature of the human condition, his 1950s films are colorful fantasy-comedies that are still enthralled with the highs and lows of humanity, but with a more positive outlook and a lighter sensibility. Some have written this off as a social and political cop-out, while others have seen it as simply a man mellowing with age.
However you view it, The Golden Coach is the perfect embodiment of the “new” Renoir. Set in Peru in the 18th century, it tells the story of a traveling Italian commedia dell’arte troupe who arrives at a Spanish colony at the same time a beautiful golden coach is delivered as a gift to the viceroy (Duncan Lamont). The star of the stage troupe is Camilla, embodied with the earthy lustiness that Italian star Anna Magnani had come to symbolize by that point in her career. Rarely has an actress and a role been so destined to collide, and the result is one of the great cinema presences, as Magnani commands attention from the viewer as effortlessly as she does the various men who lust after her. She vacillates between power and pettiness, but never once loses interest.
Camilla is such a presence that the viceroy falls head over heels for her—social consequences be damned—and ends up giving her the golden coach as a present. This infuriates the nobility, who feel that the viceroy’s dalliances with an actress, hardly a worthy social status at the time, is simply disgraceful. The elaborate gift also brings to a head the affections of two other men, Don Antonio (Odoardo Spadaro), the conceited local matador, and Felipe (Paul Campbell), the troupe’s manager who is so distraught when Camilla rejects him that he opts to join the ranks of soldiers and risk his life on the battlefield rather than subject himself to the sight of her with another man.
The story is somewhat silly, but, then again, The Golden Coach is above all a visual treat. Shot in glorious Technicolor by Renoir’s brother, Claude Renoir, it is a film that reminds us that Jean and Claude were the sons of famed Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir. Shot in bold tones of gold and red, The Golden Coach is a heavily affected film, one that announces its thematic connection between the world on stage and the real world through its dazzling visual scheme. The film begins self-consciously as a stage production, with the curtain drawing back to reveal the set, but it soon moves into fully cinematic territory, with Renoir displaying his subtle mastery of the medium.
Those who discount Renoir’s 1950s films and the seemingly naïve optimism they embody find The Golden Coach to be a perfect example of his having turned his back on the political for the pursuit of more simple emotional pleasures. Granted, the film’s setting in colonized South America would seem to lend itself to all sorts of political critiques of colonial power and the subjugation of local populations, but such concerns are largely absent from the film. In a sense, this is a loss, particularly when compared to Renoir’s 1930s films, and it’s hard not to feel miffed that Renoir would pass up such a clear opportunity to make a statement. Yet, to dismiss the film for this reason alone is to ignore all its many attributes. Renoir may have reduced his ideological load, but he never lost sight of the power of the cinema to paint a memorable portrait of humanity in all its varied forms, and The Golden Coach, despite its light tone, is testament to that persistence.
|The Golden Coach Criterion Collection DVD|
|The Golden Coach is available exclusively as part of The Criterion Collection’s “Stage & Spectacle: Three Films by Jean Renoir” three-disc box set, which also includesFrench Cancan and Elena and Her Men.|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|SRP||$79.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||August 3, 2004|
|The new high-definition transfer of The Golden Coach, taken from a 35mm interpositive, is quite gorgeous. The bright, colorful cinematography shines, with the colors being deeply saturated in the way that only Technicolor hues can. The MTI Digital Restoration System has cleaned up any residual scratches and dust, leaving a strikingly clean and clear image. There is a little bit of color shifting near the end of the film, which is likely a result of unavoidable shrinkage of the original elements resulting in the three Technicolor strips not lining up exactly. The only point of real visual distraction is the restored final few minutes of the film, which seem to have come from an old 16mm print, as the colors are much less saturated, the image is darker and grainier, and the details are much fuzzier.|
|The film is presented with its original English monaural soundtrack, which has also been digitally restored and left sounding quite good for its age. While The Golden Coach was an international production that also had French and Italian versions, Renoir preferred the English-language version presented here. It might have been nice, though, had Criterion included the other two soundtracks just for comparison’s sake.|
|The disc starts with a video introduction to the film by Martin Scorsese, which was recorded for the premiere of the restored version of the film as part of the “Martin Scorsese Presents” video series. Also included is a black-and-white introduction to the film by Jean Renoir and the first part of Jean Renoir parle de son art, French New Wave director Jacques Rivette's three-part interview with Renoir. In the interview, Renoir mainly discusses the role of dialogue in sound films and how they differ from the silent cinema. Lastly, there is a nice collection of rare production stills, and the insert booklet contains a new essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum and a reprinted essay by Andrew Sarris.|
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright © The Criterion Collection