Nana (1926)
A film directed by Jean Renoir

Genre: History / Drama / Romance

Film Review

Nana photo
Jean Renoir's second full-length film is this lavish and fairly faithful adaptation of Emile Zola's classic novel, Nana. The film's extravagances include spacious, overly decorated sets and two magnificent set pieces - a horse race and an open air ball (complete with a stunningly choreographed cancan sequence). So much money was spent on the film that it could never have made a profit, and it was the commercial failure of this film which robbed Renoir of the opportunity to make such an ambitious film again for several years.

Whilst Nana is noticeably less experimental than Renoir's previous film, La fille de l'eau (1924), it is a more sophisticated and mature work, and certainly more characteristic of Renoir's subsequent films. The freedom of expression, the overriding importance of characterisation (even for minor characters), the brittle relationship between men and women - the style of the film is unmistakably that of the great director Jean Renoir. There are even some fine examples of Renoir's wicked sense of humour - including some witty visual jokes and a bedroom farce scene - to complement the film's darker dramatic moments (of which there are plenty).

The film stars Renoir's wife, Catherine Hessling, in one of her most eccentric performances as the flawed heroine Nana. Hessling is brilliant at capturing the negative qualities of the character - her vulgarity, her arrogance and vanity - but she also manages to arouse sympathy in the spectator and comes across as a victim of her own social background and uncontrollable impulses. Hessling's performance is characteristically stylised, noticeably lacking in subtlety, but - for once - perfectly suited to the character she is playing.

Hessling works well with her co-stars, Werner Krauss and Jean Angelo, who play Nana's love-struck admirers. Whilst Hessling's portrayal of Nana appears to lack humanity, there is no end of that quality in her co-stars' performances. The film is primarily about the power of love to take hold and drag its victims inexorably towards their doom, but it is also about the inability of a working class girl to elevate herself above her baser qualities.

Renoir's scriptwriter, Pierre Lestringuez, and art director, Claude-Autant Lara, also appear in the film (as theatrical director and amorous playwright respectively). The film was magnificently restored in 2002 by Cinéteca Comunale, with the support of the Franco-German television channel Arte.
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A proud but talentless young actress, Nana, dreams of a better life for herself, away from the tawdry slums of Paris...
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Film Credits

Directed by Jean Renoir
Starring: Catherine Hessling, Pierre Lestringuez, Jacqueline Forzane, Werner Krauss, Jean Angelo
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