24 December 2012 | cowboyandvampire
Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder
A charmingly amoral club owner sets his sights — amorous and financial — on a beautiful, naïve blue collar girl and propels her to the height of celebrity thanks to her titillating dance skills.
It may sound like a contemporary, cutting edge urban drama, but French Cancan was made in 1956 by famed director Jean Renoir. The movie — a darkish comedy with a progressive take on sexuality — chronicles the birth of the Moulin Rouge. Legendary Jean Gabin plays Danglard, a world-weary hustler, club owner and anti-hero for the ages, who makes no pretense of his philandering and amorous proclivities. He's casting about for a new lover and a new money making venture when his current club fails and he grows bored with his mistress. He discovers a beautiful young washer girl, Nini, whom he convinces to headline at his new "concept" club, the Moulin Rouge, making it a hot spot and her a celebrity before the doors even open.
It doesn't hurt that Nini's moody ex-lover — a sullen baker (le petit grump) — injures Danglard in a fight and an even moodier Russian count becomes suicidal because Nini spurns his advances. As the salacious headlines drive up public interest, they learn the club will feature the cancan in all it's thigh-revealing, petticoat-flashing, bawdy glory — a disreputable dance to begin with now fallen completely out of favor.
The movie is a riot with memorable characters, beautiful, dizzying club and dance scenes, a few titillating moments that must have pushed the limits 60 years ago and swooning French girls forever throwing themselves desperately into and out of the arms of their lovers. You almost forget that it's a musical, so seamlessly are the musical and dance scenes integrated into the plot.
Danglard's gangly side kick is hilarious as is the whistler. Most delightful of all was seeing and hearing the divine Edith Piaf on screen after listening in awe to her songs all these years.
The movie is best enjoyed with absinthe in honor of the absinthe consumed on screen — as fate would have it, we had some delightful Oregon-made absinthe that night — or lots of champagne.
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