THE GOLDEN COACH
France, Italy 1952
Directed by Jean Renoir
Running time: 100 minutes
Her troupe of mountebanks are clad loudly in jester’s argyle. They brandish sceptre and rapier and tumble backwards. And yet, they deliquesce in her presence. They cure into the theatrical flats that obscure and repaint our vanishing point. THE GOLDEN COACH has just one figure to emerge from its cheap Cinecittá backdrops. Her name is Anna Magnani or Camilla or Columbine. She’s made her way to Spanish Peru with the commedia dell’arte, whose performances are those of craft and experience. The great unscripted theater of types. Renoir tracks Magnani’s trumpet-like gestures in medium and wide shots out of obligation. Her thunderous, instinctive laughter too. “Mama mia!” she’ll shout, with all the conviction of a benediction.
“It’s out of a dream! It’s out of a dream!”
So the courtiers attending the Spanish viceroy, who must occasionally faint out of respect for protocol, fawn over His Highness’ titular coach. It’s a symbol of his power. A conspicuous tool of the nobleman’s profession. A transport laden down by gold stone. Useless in battle yet worth no less than eight hundred muskets in continuing the loyalty of his people. But to deploy the coach in service of Camilla, his love and the object of his deepening caprice (for the nobleman, there is no difference), is to relinquish it. And with it goes the confidence of his court and his role as viceroy. The successful technique of one role betrays the possibility of another.
And Columbine, who from beyond the wings of a makeshift stage, away from the hollers of a rapt audience of rabble, plays the role of lover. Not just for the viceroy, but also for the soldier and the toreador. This woman, whose legs seem to spring from the Earth like trunks nourished by a subterranean lattice of knowledge, dons each love in turn. Hers is not so capricious and oedipal as the viceroy’s, but it’s existential and overearnest. When she calls herself and her role into question, when the theater’s types infiltrate the very real question of her identity, we are shaken by the shouts of the rabble in our own lives. This is the affect unique to the distanced irony of Renoir’s post-illusionist period: all the world’s a stage and mine is no exception.
Renoir’s adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s Le Carosse du Sain Sacrément is a story of civilization. And despite the sense of refinement we feel listening to its sublime Vivaldi score, it’s not a story of civil society. We are, all of us, in a partially-constructed New World of our own. And we choose our place of civis (Latin: to lie down; to settle; to be at home). And like it or not, there is no space of exploration beyond that of theater. So Pirandello’s “theater of the theater,” instructs us. As do Jean Genet’s theatrically triangulated social identities. To refuse the role of performer is to have never chosen.
08 August 2013