A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Elena et les hommes (Jean Renoir, 1956)


Like French Cancan (1954) and The Golden Coach (1952), this is one of Renoir's brightly Technicolored entertainments, with ravishing cinematography by his nephew, Claude Renoir, that recalls the rich colors of the paintings by Jean's father and Claude's grandfather, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. And like many of those paintings, the movie opens itself up to criticisms of possessing more style than substance. Elena et les hommes, which was originally released in the United States under the title Paris Does Strange Things, is a giddy, somewhat brainless romp whose chief claim to our attention is that it was the first film Ingrid Bergman made after her break from Roberto Rossellini. I watched it just after having seen three of those films -- Stromboli (1950), Voyage to Italy (1954), and Fear (1954) -- in which Bergman is put to extremes of emotional torment. Making Elena must have been an enormous relief for her, because it shows: She has never been more beautiful onscreen, wearing the opulent finery of 1880s Paris. She has also never been more lively or funny, throwing herself with complete abandon into the nonsense of the plot. It makes me regret that she did so few comedies: Only Indiscreet (Stanley Donen, 1958) and Cactus Flower (Gene Saks, 1969) gave her a real chance to lighten up the way Renoir's film does, although she showed her comic skills by parodying her more glum roles, especially the doughty missionary in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (Mark Robson, 1958), in her Oscar-winning performance in Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974). It's too bad that her leading men in Elena aren't up to her standards: Jean Marais looks like he doesn't understand what's going on (which is understandable when so much is), while Mel Ferrer looks like he gets it but can't quite overcome the handicap of being Mel Ferrer when what is needed is a Cary Grant or a James Stewart to match Bergman's skills.

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