(director/writer: Jean Renoir; screenwriters: Pierre Lestringuez/from the novel by Emile Zola; cinematographers: Edmund Corwin/Jean Bachelet; editor: Jean Renoir; music: Marc-Olivier Dupin; cast: Catherine Hessling (Nana), Jean Angelo (Count de Vandeuvres), Werner Krauss (Count Muffat), Valeska Gert (Zoe), Claude Moore (Fauchery), Pierre Champagne (Hector de la Faloise), André Cerf (The Tiger), Pierre Lestringuez (Bordenave), Raymond Guérin-Catelain (Georges Hugon), Jacqueline Ford (Rose Mignon), Karl Harbacher(Francis), Jacqueline Forzane (Comtesse Muffat); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jean Renoir; Lionsgate; 1926-silent-France-in French with English subtitles)
“A lesser film that hints at the potential greatness of young filmmaker Jean Renoir… .”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A lesser film that hints at the potential greatness of young filmmaker Jean Renoir (“La Marseillaise”/The Little Match Girl”/”The Elusive Corporal”), such as his ability to film theater spectacle, his detailed observations of class manners, his astute study of his developed characters, his uncanny skill in blending together comedy and tragedy, and his ability to provide elaborate set designs (marvelously designed by future director Claude Autant-Lara, who had a minor part billed as Claude Moore). This early theater piece silent is based on the celebrated novel by Emile Zola.
Let down by the hammy and one-dimensional performance of its doll-like star, Catherine Hessling, Renoir’s wife at the time. She’s a diminutive and rather unappealing actress, who never heard of subtlety. Hessling is miscast as the temptress, who makes men of position and wealth disgrace themselves for her beauty (if you find her credible in that role, you must have seen something I couldn’t see happening onscreen). The supposed pleasure is in seeing this self-absorbed, vain, unconscionable pleasure-seeker, after ruining the lives of a number of aristocrats, get her comeuppance in the conclusion when abandoned as she comes down with a fatal case of smallpox.
Though many regard it as Renoir’s finest silent, I had a hard time sitting through its lighthearted first hour without looking at my watch. When things turned considerably bleaker in the last part, I only felt relieved this overlong and overwrought melodrama was ending at last.
It chronicles nasty Parisian slum girl Nana rise from a struggling third-rate variety show actress, popular with the vulgarian plebeian theater audience as a sexpot tart flapper, to the wealthy courtesan of the following: the respectable married Count Muffat (Werner Krauss), the wealthy racing horse owner Count de Vandeuvres (Jean Angelo) and his lovelorn twit of a nephew Georges (Raymond Guérin-Catelain). That these men throw away their lives to be with such an annoying and not very attractive woman like Nana might have worked in the novel as a serious psychological work, but onscreen it mostly seemed ridiculous and opera-like farcical.
The lavish pic is set during the Second Empire.
The critics at its theater release mostly panned it and the public didn’t buy into it, as it flopped at the box-office.
REVIEWED ON 1/4/2010 GRADE: C+