(1955)3Craig ButlerJean Renoir's first French film in 15 years, French Cancan is a charming, candy-colored musical-comedy bonbon. Clearly having picked up a trick or two about musicals during his years in Hollywood, Renoir fills the screen with glorious pastels, kicks the energy level up several notches, and never lets more than a few minutes go by without some form of dance making its presence felt. Renoir's screenplay is a trifle skimpy, which is often the case with musicals; perhaps it is more noticeable this time around because one expects more from Renoir. That said, as a director he still includes any number of telling details and knowing glances that help to flesh out both the characters and the story. More importantly, he takes elements that we've seen before (such as a speech about how performers must give so much of themselves for their audience) and makes them feel fresh. And he certainly knows how to build a musical number -- and a film. The sequence that climaxes French Cancan is simply dazzling. Renoir doesn't deserve all the credit, of course, especially with Jean Gabin on hand delivering a commanding performance, and with a crew of designers and technicians whose contributions can't be minimized. If French Cancan ultimately falls a trifle short of being a classic, blame it on the slightness of the script -- then sit back, forget about that minor flaw, and let it wash over you.
Beautifully photographed, this comedy drama from Jean Renoir chronicles the revival of Paris' most notorious dance as it tells the story of a theater producer who turns a humble washerwoman into a star at the Moulin Rouge. The film is also title Only the French Can.