Randwick Ritz, Sydney:

6:30 PM, Sunday
May 05

3:45 PM,  Tuesday
May 07

Lido Cinemas, Melbourne: 

6:15PM, Sunday 
May 12

3:45PM, Tuesday
May 14

Rating: G
Duration: 103 minutes
Country: France, Italy
Language: English, French and Italian
Cast: Anna Magnani, Odoardo Spadaro, Duncan Lamont
Director: Jean Renoir




“The noblest, most refined film ever made…maybe Renoir’s masterpiece.” – François Truffaut

“At his greatest, Jean Renoir expressed the beauty in our common humanity [and] that’s what Anna Magnani at her greatest expressed… his tribute to commedia dell’arte is also a tribute to her fabulous gifts, and she gives the film its gusto.”
– Pauline Kael

Extravagant production design, magnificent costumes, music from Vivaldi, a magnetic performance from Anna Magnani and exquisite Technicolor cinematography from Renoir’s son Claude – they are all brilliantly delivered in this 4K Ultra HD restoration of The Golden Coach. It’s arguably one of the greatest colour films ever made. In a dusty Peruvian frontier town in the 18th Century, Camilla (Magnani) and a troupe of Italian travelling players arrive to bring their art to South American audiences. The town is run by an arrogant Spanish viceroy who competes with a gentleman soldier and a local bullfighter for Camilla’s love. Camilla, however, is struggling to differentiate between this reality and the stage.

Introduced by Margot Nash at Ritz Cinemas and Peter Hourigan Lido Cinemas.

My principal collaborator on this film was the late Antonio Vivaldi. I wrote the script while listening to records of his music and his wit and sense of drama led me on to developments in the best traditions of Italian theatre.” – Jean Renoir

Every character is filled with warmth, humanity, complexity, insight and sympathy.
– Derek Hunter

While artists have often addressed the confusion of reality and fiction, few have done it with as much grace and love as Renoir.” - Virgin Film Guide

Presented with the support of IIC Sydney and IIC Melbourne. 

By Adrian Danks
A key influence on François Truffaut, Robert Altman, Jacques Rivette and many others, Jean Renoir (1894-1979) is widely regarded as the greatest of French filmmakers. Growing up in Paris and the south of France, Renoir served as a reconnaissance pilot in World War I before turning to low budget filmmaking in the mid-1920s, often collaborating with his then wife, Catherine Hessling. Renoir’s breakthrough came in the early 1930s with the release of such influential films as La chienne (1931) and Boudu sauvé des eaux (Boudu Saved from Drowning, 1932). He then moved onto the series of movies – often revealing leftist Popular Front sympathies – that established his lasting reputation as one of the great chroniclers of the mores and manners of French society: Le crime de Monsieur Lange (The Crime of Monsieur Lange, 1935), La grande illusion (The Grand Illusion, 1937), La bête humaine (The Human Beast, 1938) and the legendary La règle de jeu (The Rules of the Game, 1939).

But Renoir was also a significant transnational filmmaker. Fleeing to the United States after the German invasion of France in mid-1940, he established a peripatetic career working across various studios and independent production companies, before returning to Europe and international filmmaking in the 1950s. Over time, a reassessment of the extraordinary series of colour films he made between 1951 and 1956 – including The River (1951) and Le carrosse d’or (The Golden Coach, 1952) – has helped create a more complex and varied image of Renoir’s extraordinary legacy.

An equal favourite of filmmakers and critics, he was also the second son of the great Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste. Inventive, moving and pictorially striking, Renoir’s cinema betrays the influence of his father’s lively and colourful work but also transcends it, taking many of its thematic and stylistic preoccupations to a higher, more deeply felt and explicitly modern level. Brilliantly mixing comedy and drama, pathos and cruelty, theatre and everyday life, Renoir’s wistfully philosophical cinema is fully alive to the possibilities of the medium, to the actors, locations and experiences encountered by the camera, whether on location or on the soundstages of Hollywood or Europe. He is also a director fascinated by the beauty of failure, the melancholy, equivocal nature of humanity perhaps best summed up by the heart-breaking words of Renoir’s Octave in La règle de jeu: ‘You see, in this world, there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons.’ This oft-quoted line of dialogue reveals the deep feelings, concern and understanding characteristic of Renoir’s cinema, but also the darkness and terrible knowledge that lies within and behind such equivocation.

Called ‘the noblest and most refined film ever made’ by François Truffaut (1), and ‘a radiant … easy going masterpiece’ by David Thomson (2), The Golden Coach is a pivotal work in Renoir’s career and the first in a series of three meticulously coloured films (alongside French Cancan [1955] and Elena et les hommes [Elena and her Men, 1956]) built around an iconic star – Anna Magnani, Jean Gabin and Ingrid Bergman, respectively – that joyously explore the porous boundaries between performance and reality, tradition and modernity, theatre and everyday life. Although it is now commonly regarded as one of the great triumphs of Renoir’s career, and was even celebrated at the time by a small coterie of now influential critics including Truffaut, André Bazin and Rivette – who reportedly watched it from 2:00pm to midnight on its day of release and whose subsequent work betrays its legacy – The Golden Coach mostly met with an indifferent and even negative reception from critics and audiences when released in France, Italy, the United States and elsewhere between late 1952 and early 1954.

The Golden Coach marked Renoir’s full return to Europe, but those expecting the celebrated filmmaker to revert to his realist “roots” were unsettled by the surface lightness of the material, its fascination with the forms and archetypes of the centuries old Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, and the relentlessly self-reflexive use of doorways, frames, curtains, masks, veils and the theatre’s proscenium arch to create a self-contained world where nothing escapes the formal, playful, though sometimes improvisatory parameters of performance. This is announced by the forward and backward movement of the camera across the space of the theatre in the opening and closing shots. The elaborate stage-bound set we see in this opening – as well as the series of curtains which must part to finally grant us access – seamlessly transitions into a much larger, endlessly compartmentalised, though truly cinematic space. As in the famous quotation from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, ‘all the world’s a stage’, but the sympathetic, flawed and deeply human characters that Renoir creates are something more than “merely players”. Even here, within the expressly studio-boundThe Golden Coach, Renoir creates a world that is profoundly open to air, life, the complex motivations of character, and the small idiosyncratic details of gesture, expression, voice and décor.

After working and setting up his home in the United States in the 1940s, Renoir first moved away from Hollywood and American independent production with his initial experiment with colour and shooting in India, The River. The Golden Coach takes many of these experiments with expressionist and impressionist colour further and each element of décor, costume and set design is carefully calibrated to create a fully synthetic world that perfectly matches the rhythms, timing and sense of tone, liveliness and order provided by the music of Vivaldi. Renoir often spoke of Vivaldi as his key collaborator on this film – though he also credited the patience and openness of his Italian producers and Magnani’s extraordinarily committed performance as Camilla – the music providing inspiration for both the scripting and the filming itself.

But the confusion of many critics and even audiences at the time of release is also related to the film’s hybridity. Although it is set in the Spanish colonies of Peru in the first half of the 18th century – the use of Vivaldi is, in some ways, contemporaneous with that period – and made within the newly booming Italian film industry of the early 1950s, it is a consciously transnational work. It was designed to be shown in various languages (Renoir favoured the English-language version, particularly for Magnani’s accent and pronunciation), features a range of English, Italian and American actors, and was shot entirely on the soundstages and stock exteriors of Cinecittà in suburban Rome. Nevertheless, it is unsurprising that audiences and critics expected a more earthy, consciously realist film. These expectations would have been set by the memory of Renoir’s celebrated films of the 1930s as well as the presence of Magnani – a key symbol of neo-realism due to her celebrated roles in films including Roberto Rossellini’s Roma città aperta (1945). But this set of expectations also relied on a misreading of Renoir’s 1930s films. Although works like Le crime de Monsieur Lange, La grande illusion and La règle de jeu are noted for their realist humanism, they also incorporate elements of theatre, play-acting and performance. In truth, many of the Italian neo-realist films also introduced these “conflicting” elements.

The Golden Coach is also a loose adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s 1829 play, La carosse du Saint-Sacrement. Although Renoir clearly admired the play, he nevertheless considered it – due to its highly formal and precise narrative, as well as its carefully calibrated dialogue – as not well suited to the cinema. The brilliance of Renoir’s adaptation is in how he combines the essence and elements of Mérimée’s play with core aspects of the Italian cultural tradition, including its music, the structured and improvised forms of commedia dell’arte, and its synthetic, often studio-based modes of filmmaking. In the hands of many other filmmakers, this restless and self-conscious movement between theatre and life, on and offstage, would have undermined the “reality” of the fiction as well as our emotional engagement with the characters’ predicaments. But The Golden Coach insists that, while there is a special alchemy, nobility and feeling for life expressed in theatrical performance, the boundaries between the “play” and life, and between cinema and reality are profoundly porous and never undermine our emotional or intellectual engagement. This is brilliantly displayed in those moments where Camilla’s three suitors, the viceroy, the bullfighter and the soldier – and they are equally archetypes of each and something more – create their own theatrical worlds in the realm of the court, the ring and the battlefield. In The Golden Coach, the theatre is both a “special case” and a refined iteration of the roles, situations and institutions that define and structure human society.

The symbol of the coach itself – imported by the viceroy, slept in by Camilla on her journey from Italy to the New World, given away numerous times in the narrative – provides a framework to help understand the deeper emotions, feelings and material conditions of the characters. Like the earrings in Max Ophuls’ Madame de… (1953), it is a symbol of exchange between characters that expresses their shifting material relation to class, society and each other. Camilla’s final gesture – which I won’t give away here – confirms her commitment and surrender to something more mercurial and lasting than the weighty exchange value of the coach. In the process, she both commits to her life in the theatre and recognises the emotional and material sacrifices she must continue to make. In its combination of deep feeling and self-conscious theatricality, it provides one of the most profoundly bittersweet and equivocal moments in all of Renoir’s cinema.


1.     François Truffaut, The Films in My Life, trans. Leonard Mayhew (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985): 43.

2.     David Thomson, ‘Have You Seen…?’: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films (London: Allen Lane, 2008): 332.

A French-Italian co-production, The Golden Coach was filmed in English. A shoot in French was planned as well, but it had to be abandoned due to financial problems. Renoir let his assistant director Marc Maurette direct the dubbing in French. The French version was the first to appear in theatres. An Italian version was also made.

Director: Jean Renoir; Production Companies: Panaria Film, Hoche Production; Producers: Francesco Alliata, Ray Ventura; Script: Jean Renoir, Renzo Avanzo, Giulio Macchi, Jack Kirkland, Ginette Doynel. Inspired by the 1829 play by Prosper Mérimée ‘La Carosse du Saint Sacrement’; Photography: Claude Renoir; Editors: David Hawkins, Mario Serandrei; Production Design: Mario Chiari; Set Decoration: Gino Brosio; Sound: Joseph De Bretagne; Music: Antonio Vivaldi; Costumes: Maria De Mattheis.

Cast: Anna Magnani (Camilla), Duncan Lamont (Ferdinand), Odoardo Spadaro (Don Antonio), Riccardo Rioli (Ramon), Paul Campbell (Felipe), Ralph Truman (Duke of Castro), Elena Altieri (Duchess of Castro), George Higgins (Martinez).

Italy/France| 1952| 102 mins | 4K DCP | Colour | English| M

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