(Jean Renoir, 1953)
Jean Renoir made two of the greatest films ever in the 1930s, The Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game. While they reside in different genres, both films were about class, and both dealt with the core of human nature, speaking to universal truths that go beyond cinema and infiltrate every facet of life and art. They are towering achievements in cinema, just two of the many jewels in Renoir's catalog that is one of the five or ten most widely praised oeuvres in film.
Because of these works, Renoir's later-stage trifle The Golden Coach seems to demand serious consideration from critics, who assure that something deeper lurks beneath the colorful veneer of Renoir's universe. They may be right: certainly the film's central character, played by Anna Magnani, represents the larger struggle of the actress, really the performer, perhaps the artist But I think these in-depth deconstructions of the film do a disservice to its more overt intentions. The Golden Coach may be an exploration of the artist, but it's also a wacky farce that plays with the barriers between stage and screen, reality and fantasy, what happens onscreen and what happens in the dark as we see the story unfold. These can all be heavy topics, for sure, but Renoir deals with them in such a light-hearted and entertainment-minded way that dwelling on them would seem vulgur next to the purity of the film's story.
Not that The Golden Coach is virginal. While not necessarily a sex comedy, the film has its share of nudge nudge wink wink moments. And by the time Magnani is shuttling back and forth between her prospective lovers, the movie has made it clear that higher aspirations are not particularly of interest. Like the colorful and apt Criterion cover, the purpose is to dazzle, if only for an hour or two.