Jean Renoir (adaptation, based on an idea by André-Paul Antoine), Jean Renoir (director) French Cancan / 1954
It might be fascinating some day to compare and contrast the various versions of films centered around Montmartre's famed Moulin Rouge and the various figures involved—from John Houston's 1952 Moulin Rouge, focusing on the life of Toulouse-Lautrec, to Renoir's French Cancan of two years later, from the 1960 stage-inspired film musical Can-Can to Baz Luhrmann's extravaganza of 2001, also titled Moulin Rouge. All of them perhaps have the word excess in common. Moreover, it is quite revealing to compare Renoir's love-letter to Parisian bohemian life and Walter Lang's rather insipid movie tribute to a dance: while in the American version, the can-can is presented as a revolutionary, scandalous dance fought by the forces of moral reform, Renoir treats the same as a revival of an old fashioned dance that faces only the obstacles of love and money. For the Americans, accordingly, the cancan represents a radical step forward in sexual freedom, while Renoir's French Cancan is a recreation of a romanticized past.
In my estimation, however, only Renoir's movie represents truly great film-making. Unlike the other versions, fettered by psychological revelations, ridiculous turns of plot, and casts of thousands, French Cancan almost entirely dispenses with story in order to present the viewer with a spectacularly colorful image of a bygone era.
Los Angeles, February 23, 2010