Renoir is a tricky filmmaker for me. His films are very, very good technically, but aside from La Grande Illusion, they are rather low in pure entertainment value. It was thus that I entered my last Renoir film on the list, The Golden Coach, with low expectations. There was another layer of it, though; this, besides being my last of his films on the list, is also the last on the list for Renoir, and thus if there were to be any further evolution and ripening of his skill and talent as a filmmaker, it would be found here, at least as far as the list was concerned. What I ended up getting, though, was somewhere in the middle; here, the well done technicals are hidden fairly well, instead of being displayed for all to see, and the entertainment value is upped somewhat, though it comes with an added cheese factor due to the characters the film focuses on.
The film starts off with two plots, which soon intersect. A commedia dell-arte troupe of actors arrives in a small but aristocratic town, where they refurbish the local theater and put on a performance. Meanwhile, arriving from the same ship is an extremely ornate golden coach, purchased by the local viceroy as a personal trinket, to which the other nobility of the town begin to wonder how and why it was purchased to begin with. The viceroy, as well as a popular local bullfighter, attend the troupe’s performance, where the viceroy and the bullfighter both separately become smitten with the lead actress Camilla, who also has a would-be suitor in fellow troupe member Felipe. Naturally, the battling love threads come to a head, spurred on by the impetus of the titular coach. If it weren’t apparently from that plot summary, the characters and plot of this film sit squarely in the elite class, as does the film itself with its period piece setting and seemingly endless production value. The film opens, for instance, with a 30 second musical interlude of the Vivaldi musical score, followed by the opening titles displayed over the closed, ornate red curtain of a lavish theater. From there, the film sets its location as being both parts of nobility and excess as well as the poor and struggling, mostly through well-utilized and lengthy art direction and production design. This, however, was really the only outstanding feature I could place, aside from the film’s propensity to try and completely focus on Anna Magnani, who plays the central role of Camilla. She was good, but I didn’t think she had either the star power or the “x factor” to make it a truly great performance; one worthy of having the rest of the film fall by the wayside in favor of having the story almost completely focus on her. The film also surprised me in that, despite being a French and Italian production, it was filmed in English (though there are overdubbed French and Italian versions as well), so if you’re concerned about subtitles, in this rare occasion, you don’t have to be.
This one had quite a lot of treats for the eye, but I didn’t care for it too well; or rather, the reasons I found to appreciate Renoir’s films in the past seemed to be dulled and numbed here. I was partially expecting another treatise in how to correctly and excellently construct a film, but this one was too concerned with Magnani and the production value, which to me wasn’t enough to carry the film alone. That it was in English did seem to help some, but not enough for me. I’d wager a guess that this was added as a later Renoir work and for its visual aesthetic, which reminded me at times of the 1944 film Henry V, with its setting of a film within a theater, but I couldn’t really come up with anything more than that. Similarly, if you were to trouble me for reasons to watch this, aside from the possibility of seeing further Renoir films should you be a fan, I would likely come up rather empty-handed. It’s not a bad film, but neither is it a very special or great one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10