With an original live score by Prima Vista Quintet
Jean Renoir's second full-length silent film is a faithful adaptation of Émile Zola’s classic novel. The film’s extravagances include two magnificent set pieces – a horse race and an open-air ball. It's an extraordinary achievement that now seems to fit perfectly into the Renoir oeuvre though at the time of its release in France it was a financial and critical disaster.
Catherine Hessling (Renoir's first wife) played the title role of the Second Empire bit actress who became the most famous courtesan of her day. It moves from realism to expressionism to romanticism, all the while being somewhat comic and cool. Her Nana is a non-stop performance, whether she's on‐stage or off, which is something that Renoir often seeks to emphasise by photographing scenes as if the camera were sitting in the orchestra of a theatre. Yet Renoir, who at this time was strongly influenced by the films of Erich Von Stroheim, was fascinated by naturalistic detail, not only by the contrasts between the elegant and the seedy, but by the contrasts between the true and the make‐believe.
It is stunningly set and costumed from designs by Claude Autant‐Lara, who went on to direct his own films. The backstage settings are wonderfully bleak, while those of Nana's town house have a fairy tale grandeur about them. A final sequence, set in a Montmartre bal, predates by 50 years the exuberance of Renoir's 1955 French Can‐Can.
“Like discovering a long lost diary… extraordinary achievement.” - The New York Times