The Golden Coach (1952)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

Original title:  Le carrosse d’or

/, 1952, , Story and Screenplay by , , , , , inspired by La Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement by Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by ,

A troupe of Italian actors show up in eighteenth-century South America to fulfill a performance contract and are disillusioned immediately upon landing.  The glorious new world that they were promised is a one-horse town, the rooms they are given to live in are a dump and the theatre they are contracted to perform in is crawling with farm animals. Too broke from the journey to return home, they stay, but it is not long before their fabulous leading lady (Anna Magnani) is caught in a web involving three men who are obsessed with her: the soldier who accompanied her on her journey, a nationally beloved bullfighter who instigates a duel at every argument, and the wise and witty viceroy of the region who thinks that he can take up with someone as lowly as an actress and not suffer reprisals from the stuffy aristocrats who surround them. As the troupe’s popularity grows and Magnani becomes a celebrity in her own right, her ambition also increases in size, represented best by the gift the viceroy makes her of a golden, horse-drawn coach that to her symbolizes everything she has suffered and struggled for. As the political situation around them tenses up, her relationships with the three men become involved in a struggle for power that makes the titular vehicle its central symbol. This film by Jean Renoir was actually shot simultaneously in French, Italian and English but he reportedly abandoned the first two, satisfied solely with the third version which is the one that exists today. Its aesthetics play like an MGM extravaganza, the brash Technicolour cinematography and beautiful costumes remind you of something as wonderful as Goerge Sidney’s Scaramouche, but the intelligent screenplay always makes sure that there is substance behind the spectacle. Francois Truffaut named his production company specifically after this movie (“Les Films Du Carrosse”) and it’s easy to see why, it plays on the outside like the “cinema du papa” that he loathed but is actually so much more, navigating politics, sexuality and colonialism in equal measure through the mechanics of melodrama. It disappoints, slightly, only in its conclusion, which feels rushed and a bit too neat, as if Renoir ran out of time to finish the script or simply didn’t know where to go next, but doesn’t ruin the feeling of quality that has been set up from the beginning.

The Criterion Collection:  #242

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