To say that Renoir is the most intelligent of directors comes to the same thing as saying he is French to his fingertips. And if Eléna et les homes is 'the French film par excellence, it is because it is the most intelligent of films. Art and theory of art, at one and the same time; beauty and the secret of beauty; cinema and apologia for cinema.
In its time it was something of a disaster for Jean Renoir, a succession of problems (contested rights, fevers, bad accents) for which he struggled to find solutions. It was a box office and critical dud, and ended any hope of Renoir returning to Hollywood. To read its production history in Pascal Merigeau’s Jean Renoir: A Biography is akin to attending a wake. And yet the film itself is an effervescent thing, an improbable farce about a coup d’etat that positively shimmers with invention.