A very ambitious early Renoir, notable for being the first instance of his more destructive side on screen. This is limited by Hessling performance and Renoir and Zola notions of damnation not meshing that well (a reason I’ve always preferred Human Desire to La Bete Humaine as well). The film most gets by on many lively asides that allow its world to breathe.
The seeds of Madame Bovary and Diary of a Chambermaid and Elena et les Hommes are detected, so are early glimpses of Citizen Kane, Le Plaisir and Viridiana. Anchoring it all is Hessling’s monstrous and affecting "gilded fly," a lipsticked slash atop a slanted torso, a comet kicking a defiant can-can before burning itself out.
Renoir admiringly compared Hessling to a “marionette.” It works for the character – a woman not in charge of her own life – but for audiences used to more naturalistic acting, it faced ridicule. But Nana is no joke, but a bold experiment in which Renoir toys with performance and camera movement to convey the unsaid.