French Can-Can is one of the glories of cinema. I love so much about it: Gabin’s dancing at the beginning and the way he sways to the music and offers a little twirl of his leg at the end; the vibrancy of the colour; the way so many scenes seem like either a Toulouse-Lautrec poster or a French post-impressionist paintings come to life; the ‘La complainte de la butte’ song; Edith Piaf’s cameo; the way Montmartre seems constantly under construction like a metaphor for modernism encased in the Can-Can of the Belle Epoque; the way the baker boy cries after making love with Ninni; its wise and understanding heart; its generous attitude to sex; and oh so much more. But I’m now in the midst of a María Félix obsession so I just want to focus here on the way Renoir makes such excellent use of her beauty, her height, and her imperiousness. I was initially distraught at her first appearance. Surely, Renoir is too open and intelligent to diminish La Doña to some mere hot tamale belly dancer? He is. He dresses her beautifully, gives her a larger than life character to play, and gives her enough passion, jealousy, and moments of temperament to bring humour and play into the film’s themes and tone. IN the film she starts at La Belle Abesse, ends up as an Empress, and constantly makes a fool of herself over a man without once losing her dignity. She’s quite something to see. Here are some of her best, and not un-camp moments, in the film.
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