Elena and Her Men

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Elena and Her Men
Paris Does Strange Things film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Produced by Louis Wipf
Written by Jean Serge
Jean Renoir
Starring Ingrid Bergman
Jean Marais
Mel Ferrer
Jean Richard
Music by Joseph Kosma
Cinematography Claude Renoir
Edited by Borys Lewin
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
12 September 1956 (France)
31 December 1956 (Italy)
March 29, 1957 (U.S.)
28 November 1958 (Germany)
Running time
95 minutes
Country Italy/France
Language French

Elena and Her Men is a 1956 film directed by Jean Renoir and starring Ingrid Bergman and Jean Marais. The film's original French title was Elena et les Hommes and in English-speaking countries, the title was Paris Does Strange Things. It is the third addition to the trilogy, preceded by The Golden Coach (1953) and French Cancan (1955).[1] A restored copy has been released in the 21st century.

Plot[edit]

Produced in 1956, and set in 1890 France, Elena and Her Men tells the story of a young, beautiful, and free-spirited Polish princess in fin de siècle Paris who specializes in granting people good luck. Elena's family has run out of money, and in order to save them she agrees to marry an wealthy, older family friend. No sooner has she agreed to this engagement than she meets a handsome stranger during a 14 July celebration, who turns out to be the famous General Rollan's aide, Count de Chevincourt (Mel Ferrer). Sparks fly with the Count, but when he introduces Elena to General Rollan (Jean Marais) , the General is quite taken with her as well. By the end of the day, Elena finds her hands full with her engagement, and the romantic interests of two new men. To further complicate matters, General Rollan's political advisers see the General's romantic interest in Elena as a way to influence him to overtake the French government, and they employ her to grant him the luck he needs to do so.

As the movie progresses, a comical battle of juggling responsibilities develops in each character. Elena feels it is her moral duty to honor her engagement, and to help the General save France, but in her heart she loves the Count. The Count is loyal to his general and country, but is unwilling to concede Elena to the General. The General is in love with Elena but already has a mistress and is preoccupied with his growing political role in France.

When the General is deliberately posted to a remote town by the French government to prevent a coup d'état, Elena follows, trying to help save France. The Count pursues her, trying to win Elena's heart. The film concludes with Elena and the Count kissing in a brothel window, impersonating Elena and the General, providing a decoy so that the General and his mistress are able to escape France disguised as gypsies. The General abandons his political obligations and Elena, and the show of affection between Elena and the fake General sparks their love for each other touching the hearts of the people watching, and causing a wave of true love to pass over Paris and mend political tension.

Cast[edit]

Historical Context[edit]

By the 1950s, the French political system was polarized over the Algerian War, the American occupation, and the French Communist Party efforts. [2] Beginning in 1952, France had been placed in the forefront of US military deployment with approximately 98,000 troops stationed.[3] American troops were sent with the mission to partner with the French government to stop the mounting influence of the French Communist Party. [4] American troops were not welcomed and the French Communist Party successfully spearheaded a political and cultural campaign against the occupation, claiming that the Americans were attempting to "stifle authentic French thoughts." [5] By 1953, 88% of France reported that they did not want to see an increase in American influence and graffiti reading, "Go home America" was rampant in the streets. [6] France was becoming a domestic battleground for the fight between communism and the west but, in the spirit of independence they refused American help, instituted policies of détente towards the Cold War, and withdrew from NATO.[7] Meanwhile, the Algerian War (1954-1962) was dismantling the French Fourth Republic and contributing to political polarization. De Gaulle became president after the crisis of 1958 and established the Fifth Republic, attempted to reconstruct France economically while maintaining its empire. [8] The Algerian War was evidence of a dying colonization effort but De Gaulle saw it as a matter of French identity. [9] He did not feel that France could join the world's superpowers if it was not successful in keeping Algeria as a colony. [10] He requested aid from America in exchange for French support for the US Vietnam effort, but was denied.[11] The Algerian War was so controversial in France that it led to the collapse of six French governments and nearly provoked a French civil war. [12] Some French thought Algeria to be a lost cause and others sympathized with De Gaulle's sentiments that maintaining control was necessary for imperial influence. [13] However, the Algerian War ended in 1962 when Algeria succeeded in gaining their independence from France.

Background[edit]

This was Bergman's first film after leaving her husband, director Roberto Rossellini. The character of General Rollan was based on the historic General Boulanger. In 1886 Boulanger had much popular support personally despite the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and some supporters urged him to conduct a coup d'état. (He did not.)

Reception[edit]

Ingrid Bergman's performance was highly praised. Roger Ebert wrote that she played a Polish princess who could affect the future of France, but he said, that's just what the plot is about.

"The movie is about something else - about Bergman's rare eroticism, and the way her face seems to have an inner light on film. Was there ever a more sensuous actress in the movies? Francois Truffaut, reviewing this film, observed that 'sex is the only focus of attention'."[14]

He says that "Renoir preserves a strong erotic and romantic thread (the love between Bergman and Ferrer) all the way through the movie's farcical elements."[14]

Christopher Faulkner described the film as a farce dealing with many issues and incidents similar to Renoir's well-known Rules of the Game. But he wrote that it is somewhat "cynical," despite its lightness. He says that "the point is made that a woman can only find (provisional) power within representation, on a stage, playing a part. At the end of the film, as coup d’état dissolves into coup de théâtre, the suggestion is that all effective power is actually a function of performance."[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Faulkner, Christopher. "Elena and Her Men". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Hunt, Micheal (2004). The World Transformed: 1945 to Present. Boston, NY: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 292. ISBN 0-312-24583-1. 
  3. ^ Footitt, Hilary (February 2011). "American forces in France: Communist representations of US deployment.". Cold War History 11 (1): 85–98. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  4. ^ Footitt, Hilary (February 2011). "American forces in France: Communist representations of US deployment.". Cold War History 11 (1): 85–98. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  5. ^ Footitt, Hilary (February 2011). "American forces in France: Communist representations of US deployment.". Cold War History 11 (1): 85–98. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  6. ^ Footitt, Hilary (February 2011). "American forces in France: Communist representations of US deployment.". Cold War History 11 (1): 85–98. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Wall, Irwin (June 2008). "France in the Cold War" (PDF). Journal of European Studies 38 (2): 121–139. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Wall, Irwin (June 2008). "France in the Cold War" (PDF). Journal of European Studies 38 (2): 121–139. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  9. ^ Wall, Irwin (June 2008). "France in the Cold War" (PDF). Journal of European Studies 38 (2): 121–139. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  10. ^ Wall, Irwin (June 2008). "France in the Cold War" (PDF). Journal of European Studies 38 (2): 121–139. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  11. ^ Wall, Irwin (June 2008). "France in the Cold War" (PDF). Journal of European Studies 38 (2): 121–139. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  12. ^ Horne, Alistair (1992). A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962. New York, New York: New York Review of Books. p. 3. ISBN 1-59017-218-3. 
  13. ^ Hunt, Micheal (2004). The World Transformed: 1945 to Present. Boston, NY: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 292. ISBN 0-312-24583-1. 
  14. ^ a b Reviews: Elena and Her Men (1987 revival), Roger Ebert website
  15. ^ Christopher Faulkner, Elena and Her Men, Criterion Collection, 2004, accessed 21 June 2014

External links[edit]