I’m a TCM junkie--- so I was excited when Summer Under the Stars was going to be featuring a day of Ingrid Bergman and showing Jean Renoir’s cotton-candied visual spectacle “Elena et les Hommes” as part of the series. However, as sometimes happens with fair TCM, there were no Canadian rights and it was not scheduled in our programming.
Alas, I was in the mood for some Ingrid Bergman! Some Mel Ferrer! What to do!
I went online to Bay Street Video’s extensive web selection (seriously, if you live in Toronto, you should use this store as I do; best DVD selection in the city: especially for those little, esoteric foreign titles, art films and classics) and found it there as part of the Criterion Collection.
This film, readers, is absolutely ridiculous; but the palette---so lovely, so vivacious....so full of the joie-di-vivre which painted the spectacles of Renoir’s interestingly spun carousels. Jean Renoir was the son of painter Pierre- Auguste Renoir and father and son share a passion for diverse colour and landscape. Renoir the filmmaker enjoys the carnivalesque aspect of bustling crowds, of parades, of hot air balloons being thrust into a marshmallow-clouded sky ( and landing in Germany incidentally causing an International disaster preluding to war as quickly as you can say “Franz Ferdinand”) Herein, he portrays the wily but impoverished Polish princess, Elena (Ingrid Bergman) and her two ardent suitors.
The political dichotomy of the film greatly clashes with the boisterous outbursts of song and dance and fitful and ludicrously French penchant for l’amour. Elena has been mostly romantically unattached until a Bastille Day parade throws her in the path of the scrumptious Comte Henri de Chevincourt (Melchor Ferrer--- sorry. I have to call Mel Ferrer by his full name because … MELCHOR….) and his friend General Rollan, the object of the spectacle, the boisterous applause and the cries of vivre.
The apt comparison of Rollan’s political advisors to a chorus from a light operetta becomes more and more painfully obvious as they note their General’s attraction to the princess and use her to lure the General into a power play they desire. The upstairs-downstairs plots and the spacing of the mansions used (for Elena’s engagement party to a M. Shoe and later at the staging of a coup d’etat with the general) are industriously flecked with doors slamming, heels scraping wood, people bustling out. Renoir further extends the lens to encapsulate the gypsy camp nearby (completely with caravan) and the bustling throngs awaiting the exit of the General. It puts you in mind of a whipped-creamed staging of Marriage of Figaro.
It’s a ridiculous story. There are singing gypsies, village-wide make-out sessions ( this is rather tame making-out ), the General kisses Elena on the love seat, Mel Ferrer kisses Elena at a party following the parade, Elena kisses Mel Ferrer aside the glorious curtains furrowing out to allow a glimpse of amour to the spectators below.
The maid is in love with an inappropriate soldier, Mel is disguised as a gypsy…. And all of this plays out against the backdrop of political turmoil largely reflective of the events leading up to the First World War.
It’s frothy, souffléd nonsense with a bunch of music besides…. And awkward neck-tilted kisses….
The love-triangle lasts for about five seconds when Elena learns that Henri/Melchor’s apparent idle nature cloaks his passionate love for her and it all turns out in the end: in love … and in war…
( well, maybe not in war; but at least for the general)
This might have been more fun if I had been drinking pinot grigio at the same time. I’ll remember that tip for myself the next time I approach the technicolour world of odd Jean Renoir and his musically fantastical spectacles with awesome costumes and so much kissing…..
Also, I think I know what every woman wants: a man who will look at her like Mel Ferrer looks at Ingrid Bergman/Audrey Hepburn/Leslie Caron/*insert actress here* He is so undone by love and it is so transparent on his face. He out-heights the 5’10 Bergman so can even look down at her with these eyes that just blaze amidst the fluorescent frou-frou of the spectacle….
ARGH! My heart! ARGH!!