Tim Purtell
August 06, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

With the release of ”The Rules of the Game,” ”The Lower Depths,” and now Stage and Spectacle: Three Films by Jean Renoir this is turning out to be something of a banner year for the influential French director. Though not as famous as ”Rules” or ”Grand Illusion,” ”The Golden Coach” is an unqualified delight with a larger-than-life Anna Magnani as an 18th-century commedia dell’arte actress juggling a trio of suitors. Beneath the comedy’s puff-pastry layers of artifice lurk deeper truths about men and women, and life and art. ”French Cancan,” another homage to the theater, stars Renoir alum Jean Gabin as a nightclub impresario who nurtures and woos his attractive talent with a modern frankness. It’s also a visual stunner with a dazzling climactic dance sequence (the cancan, natch). And in ”Elena and Her Men,” a buoyant Ingrid Bergman plays a liberated Polish princess who juggles even more suitors than Magnani. Refreshingly, Renoir clearly applauds her breezy empowerment, which is not surprising — in a 1961 interview, the portly dynamo sparkles with bighearted bounce. ”Coach”: A; ”Cancan”: B+; ”Elena”: B+

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