The Golden Coach (1952)

“At the end of the second act, when Colombine goes, driven away by her masters, there is a tradition you seem not to know. The comedians bow to her.”

‘The Golden Coach’, directed by Jean Renoir in 1952, is an opulent costume drama set in Peru in the 18ths century. A troupe of performers arrive in a remote village, ruled by a Viceroy who has recently bought an impossibly expensive golden coach. Camilla, the ‘Columbine’ of the troupe, played by Anna Magnani, finds herself being wooed by the Viceroy and a Toreador. The Viceroy plays a trump card by gifting the golden coach to Camilla which then leads to a constitutional crisis that threatens his position. It’s a film about charity, love and the stuffiness of office. The troupe, and Camilla in particular, is portrayed as a chaotic, carnivalesque incursion into the courtly, formal environment of the village, and the coach itself becomes a solid metaphor for the power struggles of court and for the uneasy relations between the classes. As in Renoir’s earlier movie, ‘The Rules of the Game’, this sense of social unjustness and feeling that the aristocracy is somehow patronisingly mixing with the lower classes is a key theme and a central tenet of the director’s strong sense of political fairness. To this end, the casting of Anna Magnani in an uncharacteristically light and romantic role is a key to the success of the movie. Magnani carries the political weight of her performance in ‘Rome, Open City’ into a story in which politics is cleverly disguised by the almost fairy-tale trappings of the narrative and a strange framing device in which the whole thing is revelled to be a stage performance. It’s a colourful, expertly executed movie, but one with a surprisingly nuanced and sophisticated political message.

Would I recommend it? Yes – as with all of Renoir’s movies it is clinically constructed but has the appearance of being elegantly improvised. Watch, I think, with a Fellini movie like ‘La Strada’ for the theatrical connections, or perhaps ‘The Rules of the Game’ for a similar political farce.

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