French Cancan

French Cancan


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Re-released on a new digital print some 55 years after its original release, and now being given an extended run at the BFI and select cinemas from August, the legendary's French director Jean Renoir's French Cancan has never looked better.

Even viewers who don't enjoy 'dance movies', and might dislike tones of romantic whimsy and emotions painted in broad brush strokes, should be able to find many other facets to appreciate in Renoir's film. For this picture is a vivid technicolour medley that touches on the intense relationship between art and the artiste, while showcasing some dazzling costumes and dance routines in true homage to the Belle Epoque.

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It's influence can be felt in countless other films: Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge is arguably one of the more recent examples, with the same ambitious performance set-pieces, dazzling costumes, and an inherent acknowledgement of the artificiality of it all.

French Cancan is also an important film in Renoir's filmography, this was the film that marked his return to France after a 15-year exile in Hollywood, reuniting him with his favourite actor Jean Gabin, who takes the lead role here as the roguish theatre troupe manager Henri Danglard.

The story which loosely follows the founding of the actual Moulin Rouge, sees Danglard -a brilliant but insatiable Paris-based impresario – become infatuated with lovely local laundry girl Nini (Françoise Arnoul). Inspired by her beauty and singing voice, Danglard decides to make her the star of his latest venture – a club called the Moulin Rouge which will offer “high life for modest purses”.

Central to this venture will be a revival of the can-can dance, an old working-class performance but vamped up considerably. Much of the film follows the trials and tribulations of Danglard as his introduction of Nini into the fold of his troupe provokes jealousy, anger, murder threats and plenty of tears.

The proceedings are all carried off with a brassy, highly camp tone that might grate at times, but that is entirely the point - this is a true homage to the art of showbusiness and theatricality. And it all ends, as it should, with one of the most spectacular dance scenes in cinema history, with an appearance from Edith Piaf herself.

Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2011
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A club impresario makes a laundry girl the star of his can-can revival show.
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Director: Jean Renoir

Writer: Jean Renoir, André-Paul Antoine

Starring: Jean Gabin, Françoise Arnoul, María Félix, Anna Amendola, Jean-Roger Caussimon, Dora Doll, Giani Esposito, Gaston Gabaroche, Jacques Jouanneau, Jean Parédès, Franco Pastorino, Michèle Philippe, Michel Piccoli, Albert Rémy, France Roche

Year: 1954

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France, Italy


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If you like this, try:

Moulin Rouge!
The Red Shoes