Jean Renoir 1894–1979
French director, screenwriter, actor, and author.
Renoir is considered by many to be the cinema's most important French filmmaker. Best known for his poetic films of prewar France, Renoir is a predecessor of both the nouvelle vague and neorealism; his work reflects a painterly tradition of naturalism inherited from his father, impressionist artist Auguste Renoir. His films are expressions of humanism, passion, and friendship.
Renoir first turned to filmmaking as a means of photographing his wife, Catherine Hessling. His initial silent films served primarily as vehicles for her and contained avant-garde cinematic techniques. Nana, based on Emile Zola's novel, exemplifies Zola's naturalism. Despite the technical aptitude of his early work, Renoir's first films were unsuccessful, and he was forced to make low-budget films which are not considered indicative of his talent. He ended the silent era as an actor.
Sound proved a great asset to Renoir's quest for an accurate naturalism, and he convinced a studio to allow him to make a feature-length sound film, La chienne. Despite the studio's objection to the story of a prostitute, the solemn tone of the film served ultimately as a precursor to the film noir genre. Renoir began moving away from the structures of naturalism while working closely with actor-producer Michel Simon, and in the 1930s Renoir commenced his most prolific period.
La grande illusion (The Grand Illusion), Renoir's best-known film, was created as a denunciation of war and a plea for French nationalism. Considered the culmination of his films of the 1930s, La grande illusion reflects Renoir's belief that men are separated less by nation than by culture, race, or class. Renoir's message proved universal, and the film met with unanimous acclaim.
La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), made as Europe was about to go to war, was, in Renoir's words, "an exact description of the bourgeois of our time." Renoir intended the film as a bittersweet satire of war and camaraderie; however, it enraged the public and was later banned as "demoralizing." Renoir felt that audiences so despised the film because they recognized themselves in the characters. It is only in recent years that La règle du jeu has been accorded critical acclaim.
The violent reaction to La règle du jeu deeply upset Renoir, and he chose to relocate in Italy, where he worked with Luchino Visconti. However, when Italy declared war against France, Renoir opted for voluntary exile in the United States, where he accepted a directorial position with Twentieth Century-Fox. His American films are generally considered more mannered than his earlier work, despite their variety of genres. However, depictions of the American South in Swamp Water and The Southerner show Renoir to be surprisingly adept at probing the essence of rural life. Nevertheless, the studio system proved stifling to Renoir, and he decided to work elsewhere.
In 1950 Renoir made his first color film, The River. Filmed in India, The River pays homage to Auguste Renoir through a newfound interest in pictorial motif, and the film opened to great acclaim. After the success of The River, Renoir was reinstated in the critical world as an eminent filmmaker, and he returned to France.
The films Renoir made upon his return reflect a continuing belief in the universality of humankind, though they are not considered as great as his earlier works. Such films as Le testament du Dr. Cordelier use techniques formerly reserved for television, and correspond technically with the work of Truffaut and Godard. Renoir's last film, Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir (The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir), provides his final, amused look at the world. It is blatantly "puppet theater," simple in conception, and most consider it Renoir's means of reverting to the most basic elements of cinema. The film sums up Renoir's entire career, for it encompasses the themes he had long embraced: our relationship to our environment, our neighbors, and ourselves. (See also Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 85-88.)
James Shelley Hamilton
Changing a novel into a motion picture—really changing it from the medium of words into the medium of the camera—is a thorough-going process that is not often attempted except in the case of insignificant stories that do not matter to anyone…. A film has to be "like the book" in all the respects that made the book popular, or it's a disappointment to the large audience for whom it was made….
Madame Bovary is successful [because it so thoroughly satisfies so many people who were fond of the book]. The film as shown here suffers somewhat from attempts to bring it down to the length considered acceptable to American audiences….
Far more important is the fact that the film is Flaubert's novel, given beautiful and vivid form for the eye to see. This visual form is completely French, in the original, by which I do not mean that the dialogue is French—though it is—but that the shapes of landscape and town and people you see on the screen are saturated with an untranslatable atmosphere, as if the air itself had a language not spoken anywhere else. (p. 6)
Its truth was what made Flaubert's novel a classic, and the faithful way that truth has been put on the screen is what makes this film good. An American must bring to it some understanding of national differences—perhaps most important of all, to get the completest pleasure out of the film, he must appreciate the difference between French acting and what is called acting here. Our players—no matter how delightful—are for the most part merely themselves, moving about in parts that suit their personalities. The French actors act. To what they are they add a fine touch of theatricality (when it is not the real thing it is merely artificial) which heightens their performance into something more than what they merely are, and creates that thing more real than reality which is art. (p. 7)
James Shelley Hamilton, "'Madame Bovary'," in National Board of Review Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 9, December, 1934, pp. 6-7.
Frank S. Nugent
Surprisingly enough, in these combustible times, the French have produced a war film under the title "Grand Illusion."… [It] serves to warn the British that they no longer have a monopoly upon that valuable dramatic device known as understatement. Jean Renoir, the film's author and director, has chosen consistently to underplay his hand. Time after time he permits his drama to inch up to the brink of melodrama: one waits for the explosion and the tumult. Time after time he resists the temptation and lets the picture go its calmer course.
For a war film it is astonishingly lacking in hullabaloo. There may have been four shots fired, but there are no screaming shells, no brave speeches, no gallant toasts to the fallen. War is the grand illusion and Renoir proceeds with his disillusioning task by studying it, not in the front line, but in the prison camps, where captors and captives alike are condemned to the dry rot of inaction. War is not reality; prison camp is. Only the real may survive it….
[It] becomes a story of escape, a metaphysical escape on de Boeldieu's part, a tremendously exciting flesh and bone escape on the part of Marechal and Rosenthal. Renoir's narrative links the two adventures for a while, but ultimately resolves itself into a saga of flight. As an afterthought, but a brilliantly executed one, he aids a romance as one of his French fugitives finds shelter in the home of a young German widow. The story ends sharply, with no attempt to weave its threads together. It is probably the way such a story would have ended in life.
Frank S. Nugent, "A War Film without War Is 'Grand Illusion', the New French Drama Showing at the Filmarte," in The New York Times (© 1938 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 13, 1938, p. 28.
The New York Times
Exactly what Jean Renoir had in mind when he wrote, performed in and directed "The Rules of the Game" … is anybody's guess. This is the same M. Renoir, if you please, who gave us those notable imports, "Grand Illusion" and "The Human Beast," not to mention "The Southerner," from Hollywood. The new arrival, however, is really one for the buzzards.
Here we have a baffling mixture of stale sophistication, coy symbolism and galloping slapstick that almost defies analysis. The distributors claim that the picture, made shortly before the war, was banned by the Occupation on grounds of immorality. Rest assured it wasn't immortality. And there's nothing particularly sizzling in this account of some addle-headed lounge lizards tangling up their amours on a week-end house party in the country.
One minute they're making sleek Noel Coward talk about art and free love, the next they're behaving like a Li'l Abner family reunion, chasing each other from pantry to boudoir to the din of wrecked furniture, yelling and random gunfire. One carefully picturesque sequence, a rabbit hunt, may or may not be fraught with Renoir meaning, but the grand finale, in which everybody down to the cook joins in a hysterical conquest race, would shame the Keystone cops….
The picture ends abruptly with an unaccountable murder, whereupon one of the philanderers murmurs that the victim didn't learn the rules of the game. If the game is supposed to be life, love or hide-and-seek, which makes more sense, it's M. Renoir's own secret. At any rate, the master has dealt his admirers a pointless, thudding punch below the belt.
H.H.T., "Four Films Bow Over Week-end," in The New York Times (© 1950 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 10, 1950, p. 15.∗
Thomas T. Foose
[The River] is a wonderful film of great visual beauty.
The River is not a documentary. It does not deal with India's social conditions. It is not a large-scale, dynamic film like Renoir's The Grand Illusion. It is, instead, lyrical: a delicate idyll of the few months in which an adolescent English girl, living in India, passes from childhood and begins to be adult. This was the theme of Rumer Godden's novel. This is the theme of the film. India, in both, is colorful background.
But how hauntingly colorful! India's natural coloring and her beautiful ceremonials, are practically painted with the camera, in sequences that could not have been better composed...
(The entire section is 202 words.)
[The River] makes it clear that we should accept Renoir for what he is—an imperfectionist, with talent great enough to contain the kind of faults that few directors today would dare to commit….
[The River] shows Renoir's talent in full flower, the film of a humanist and a poet, and in its tender intuition, affectionate understanding, follows the line of his most memorable work. As in his best American films he absorbed and reflected a new locale, so here—with more leisure, more freedom—he creates, with evident fascination, an Indian background….
The slightness of the story is filled out by the richness of the background, and a constant series of events, some...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Renoir is not a studio hack who turns into images whatever script a producer hands him…. Renoir is a seeker who is not complacent about past achievements, but who regards each new film as a challenge, as an opportunity to make actors project the way Jean Renoir thinks human beings ought to be, in atmospheres congenial to Renoir—i.e., those in which reality and dreams intermingle.
This last is the key to all his films. (p. 140)
In Les Bas Fonds (1936), in which Renoir's favorite themes are played in the keys of despair and "realism" then fashionable, there is the character of an actor, who, caught in the conflict of dream with reality, recited a few lines of Shakespeare...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
A film with as many defects as The Golden Coach needs some extraordinary compensation. Its construction is lopsided; its narrative confused; its presentation is careless and often undramatic; its dialogue is frequently banal; and the acting in it ranges, with one exception, from the inadequate to the atrocious. Its compensation is not that it is utterly personal but that the creative personality revealed by the film, for all its flaws, is so utterly charming. (p. 198)
"Where does the theatre end and life begin?" is the question behind the whole film. It is characteristic, too, of Renoir, that when, as here, and even more frequently in The River, he reduces an idea to which he has...
(The entire section is 202 words.)
CATHERINE de la ROCHE
[French Cancan, the] story of some legendary show people and of the great show they put on, has been well told, but the overwhelming impression left by this picture is of a perfect, an enchanted evocation of the very spirit of showmanship. In La Grande Illusion and La Règle du Jeu, in The Southerner and The River, Jean Renoir, magnificently at his best, developed large themes. With French Cancan he has renewed his style, creating a masterpiece on a light theme, in which his wise and humorous perception is combined with new brilliance and charm. A charm that is very personal, for the inspiration of this film seems to be the fascinating charm for him of show folk and...
(The entire section is 250 words.)
A tapestry is usually a series of scenes linked together by similarity of theme, nothing more. Renoir calls French Can-Can a tapestry. It flows … with stately inevitability from one composition to the next. (p. 18)
It might have been a noble story with the Moulin Rouge in the rôle of the Great Ideal. Renoir prefers the truth. Danglard [the central character], training and moulding his discoveries till they are stars, seducing them and moving on to his next conquest, is not a likeable figure. The Montmartre society in which he moves is unattractive, even a little sordid, however cleverly it is framed in the colour compositions of Renoir, Michel Kelber and Max Douy. Thus the film captures the...
(The entire section is 274 words.)
Above all, in La Grande Illusion, we find lucidity and innocence. We find these qualities everywhere in Renoir, but never under such stress, for here they are not only signs of a style, but maneuvers in a gathering war. Are they the right maneuvers? We are bound to ask the question, regardless of our aesthetics, because we are being asked to agree and to act, as well as to admire…. [La Grande Illusion] is a persuasion: it tries to turn us away from Z and toward A, and from this turning proceed the real excitement, tact, and beauty it offers.
Certain difficulties always latent in pacifist persuasion appear in acute form in La Grande Illusion. There can be none of the familiar...
(The entire section is 1493 words.)
For those who see in the 1863 Manet painting, from which the title [of Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe] is derived, the essence of natural peace, it may seem sacrilegious to have the two so closely associated, but it seems to me that this is a limited view of Manet. (pp. 40-1)
Renoir has some basic beliefs about life which he applies in his film work, of course, but first and foremost he avows "I am not consistent." And then, "Man changes with the outside world" and "Art should be practiced in connection with human reality." Also that "to be a great artist you must first of all be a child" and that nature becomes that which the artist sees…. Yes, this is a child's film—the film of a true...
(The entire section is 341 words.)
Disjointed, lyrical, uneven, beautiful, [Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe] is magnificently in love with life, with nature. The warm, sunlit landscapes of Provence bring out in full the list enhancing qualities of his art….
This passionate and poetic fable-fantasy, as luminous as a story by La Fontaine, is set in a not-too-distant future when Europe is united, and science is (almost) in control. It departs enough from realism to introduce Pan, thinly disguised as a goat herd yet, through the solidity of its detail and the authenticity of its background the film is firmly anchored in reality. The clue has been given, as always, by Renoir himself. "I distrust modern realism. It seems to me under the...
(The entire section is 333 words.)
Peter John Dyer
La Fille de l'Eau [is] an almost involuntary expression of several themes destined to preoccupy Renoir throughout his career…. Despite the coy story-titles, Renoir manages to lend the opening scenes considerable authenticity and persuasion, both in his economical portraits of the Raynal family—upstanding, college-boy son, rigidly puritanical mother, anonymous, bourgeois father preoccupied with his new car—and of the village itself, with its big house and courtyard, the surrounding farmland, the trees, rain-clouds, bridle-path, canal and barge. The film was shot on location, and in its feeling for café interiors, wooded exteriors, poachers, tramps, gipsies, rabbits and horses, cows lazing in the running...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
Erotism in Renoir's work is linked so intimately with every aspect of life that it is impossible to separate them; every Renoir film is a hymn to fertility, to the great god Pan. But I think we can find a clue to [the criticism of scientific values made by Renoir in Le Testament du Dr. Cordelier and Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe] in his Boudu sauve des Eaux (1932)….
[Boudu's] will and intellect alike are quite unequal to coping with the simplest table-manners; it is his nature to be free not just from conventions and daily routine but from all such trivialities as moral obligation and logical thought. He isn't very malicious and he's hardly altruistic, although the waywardness of his...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
[Le Caporal Epinglé], Renoir's Grande Illusion of World War Two, is the wickedly and tenderly witty chronicle of a prisoner-of-war's persistent attempts to escape from a German prison camp after the fall of France in 1940, against odds as unbendingly hostile as any Buster Keaton ever had to face…. Every foot of the film is shot through with the endearing stamp of Renoir's personality, just as irreverent as the nouvelle vague, and a good deal more loving.
This is a very funny film, but also a very moving one, in which Renoir catwalks the tragi-comic line with delicate balance. The opening sequence, after establishing shots of the aerial bombardment of France and the signing of...
(The entire section is 532 words.)
[Renoir] has succeeded in providing us with some of the warmest, most tender moments in the cinema…. [However], what aspects of life must Renoir exclude from his films to enable him to maintain this open and generous acceptance of all his characters? How does he deal with violence, for instance? and how does he handle the potentially destructive aspects of physical love? To understand all is to forgive all. To what extent, then, is it Renoir's understanding that brings about his constant readiness to forgive? (pp. 56-7)
Renoir manages to send us away from the cinema after what is thematically a grim story of destructive passion and of mistaken justice [La Chienne] with the feeling that,...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
[Le Caporal Epinglé] is not one of [Renoir's] best, and I was unable to work up any interest in his mishmash about French prisoners of the Germans during the last war. The prisoners themselves are dull dogs, and the things Renoir put them through often make no sense, and are a bore when they do.
In addition to directing, Renoir collaborated, with Guy Le Franc, on the script and dialogue. I am afraid Renoir is no longer capable of saying anything that isn't "safe." And "safe" remarks in the jumble-jungle that is French intellectual life today are even more platitudinous than "safe" remarks were in the days of the Third Republic. (pp. 114-15)
The stalag incidents in which...
(The entire section is 337 words.)
Renoir is the most unruffled of directors…. [The] rich dynamism of films like Le Carrosse d'Or and Le Caporal Epinglé is effortless and invisible. They are beautiful, but there is no sense of formal composition; they are full of movement, yet the camera, almost invariably upright, moves only when it must; they are extremely complex, yet seem to be built up at random. (p. 71)
The essence of Renoir is his three-dimensional view of things, hinted at as early as La Chienne in the puppet prologue which announces that what follows is neither tragedy nor comedy, but simply a story of ordinary people "comme vous, comme moi."… For Renoir, understanding is more important than...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
The narrative pace of The Crime of Monsieur Lange is so fast, and the changes of scene so frequent, that one almost overlooks the brilliance of Renoir's sets and of the minor characters that make up the background to the film. The bustling activity in Valentine's laundry, and the somewhat lazier activity in Batala's printing room, are utterly genuine, and the realism of the party held to celebrate the 'Arizona Jim' film contract is breathtaking….
But the film hinges on the relationship between Batala and Lange, and Renoir explores this on a very deep level. Batala becomes a Mephistopheles, and Lange sells him the copyright to his stories as Faust would sell his soul….
(The entire section is 213 words.)
[Rules of the Game] is original precisely for the connection it makes between a traditional theatrical structure and a new content, and for the way it articulates their relation. For Rules of the Game is the one film in a thousand where the study of a given milieu is inseparable from a particular dramatic scheme: in it, artistic reflection is on a par with historical analysis.
Renoir's project was clear: to perform the "autopsy" of the bourgeoisie in crisis, to record the proof positive of a class overwhelmed by the events in Europe…. Renoir's film was intended, in his own words, as "an exact description of the bourgeois of the time." Directly, then, Rules of the Game is given...
(The entire section is 2124 words.)
[Boudu sauvé des eaux] is a devastating indictment of crass, middle-class values and conformism, an exercise of which Buñuel would have been proud….
[Boudu] is viewed with immense sympathy by Renoir: he is nowhere near as dastardly as Batala in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange he is merely striking out against convention and putting bourgeois vanities to flight….
Boudu sauvé des eaux is a hymn to Eros, filled with the exuberance that Renoir and Truffaut alone in the French cinema appear capable of creating. Like Catherine in Jules et Jim, Boudu is "une force de la nature', cataclysmic in his effect on the merely bookish, on those ignorant of the...
(The entire section is 132 words.)
[Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu Sauvé des Eaux)] is a more leisurely film than we are used to now, not that it is long, or slow, but that the camera isn't in a rush, the action isn't overemphatic, shots linger on the screen for an extra split second—we have time to look at them, to take them in. Renoir is an unobtrusive, unselfconscious storyteller: he doesn't "make points," he doesn't rub our noses in "meaning." He seems to find his story as he tells it; sometimes the improvisation falters, the movie gets a little untidy. He is not a director to force things; he leaves a lot of open spaces. This isn't a failure of dramatic technique: it's an indication of that movie-making sixth sense that separates a...
(The entire section is 603 words.)
[La Marseillaise] is an optimistic film, full of hope and the joy of creation. It glows with summer sunshine as the amateur soldiers tramp the long leafy road from Marseilles to Paris, arguing, laughing and occasionally bursting into that stirring song of theirs. But it is not all revolutionary fervour and high spirits. Renoir is very conscious that the trivialities of daily life do not disappear under the stress of cataclysmic events….
For Renoir there are no villains—only stupidity and misunderstanding. There are chilling moments though, when the tragedy waiting in the wings is allowed to throw its long shadow….
Technically Renoir is unobtrusive as always. It is all...
(The entire section is 226 words.)
Renoir's post-American films, from 1950 onwards, present genuine difficulties, though of a peculiar kind, just because they do not seem difficult or obscure at all. They appear to be, if anything, too easy—light, comic and sometimes farcical in spirit, colourful (only two of the seven films are in black and white) and almost self-indulgently sensuous, 'commercial' rather than 'art' films….
[However,] the peculiar quality of the later films, their combination of a high degree of abstraction with a strongly sensuous realisation, was already latent in the pre-war films; and … Renoir's diversified output has a resonant inner unity. (p. 136)
The moral seriousness and social...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
[The opening action of La Marseillaise] sets defining boundaries for the film, creates the tone of … revolution-as-theater, and allows Renoir to break from both the conventions of war and revolution films and the strictures of this particular story line. (p. 36)
A situation which recurs in many films of Renoir is the encounter and mutual understanding between figures from widely disparate classes or ways of life. The aristocratic commander of the Marseille forts, who walks onto the scene just as the main fort is successfully occupied, meets and comes to respect a leader of what he had formerly regarded as the common rabble of France: another Renoir touch…. The main tension—and...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
William S. Pechter
The notion that Renoir's films are somehow formally lax has sprung in part from their structural looseness, a looseness, one should add, that now seems an inseparable part of their self-renewing freshness and modernity…. As early as in Boudu Saved from Drowning one is aware of the sustained development of a style in which the classical criteria of visual composition within a frame are abandoned in an attempt to open up the frame to depth of field and to peripheral fluidity—and a style in which the momentum of the films derives not from a pulse created in the editing but from the realization of those possibilities for expressive movement to be found in the imaginative transformation into movement of their...
(The entire section is 1112 words.)
[La Règle du Jeu] is based on the idea of man as a social being, to whom conventions are both irksome and necessary. Polite exchanges will embody our thought only up to a point; in the end the feelings will not be contained within these bounds and it is a matter of chance, or fate, whether the irruption of passion will end well or badly. The social conventions are not free or generous enough to allow for the full extension of a normal feeling person, so that, at any moment, bursts of emotion may occur. Society itself channels these to some extent in occasions of organized license, but not everyone is amenable to the dictates of society, and occasionally passion breaks loose and proves destructive....
(The entire section is 1381 words.)
The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir is an old man's film: Renoir is using the film to express his view of life from the vantage point of seventy-six years, which differs sharply from that of the thirties, his days of youth. In "Le Roi d'Yvetot" Duvallier insists upon the veterinarian, his wife's lover, staying in his household. This is quite different from what Renoir's characters did previously in similar situations….
In his early years, Renoir, at most, pointed out the problems of society; in this film he gives a solution. But Renoir does point out that this solution is usually arrived at only with the experience of age. Renoir manifests this by contrasting Duvallier's behavior with that of...
(The entire section is 399 words.)
[When La Grande Illusion was made,] the film was a warning of the futility of war in the face of growing wars, an anatomy of the upheaval of 1914–1918 to show contemporaries how grim machineries had once been set in motion. Today its pacifist intent, as such, seems somewhat less salient (though no less moving) because so many more human beings know how futile war is and know, too, that no film can abolish it. Today the film seems a hard perception of inevitabilities, not glibly cynical but, in the largest classical sense, pessimistic: a film that no longer asks for action but that accompanies us, noting our best, prepared for our worst. Since this state of mind, this undepressed pessimism, is today...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Renoir makes his world energetic and compelling through the complexity and irony with which he treats even his most cherished themes. His films do not come to a stop in the sense of the self-enclosed great work; they have a richness that eludes total schematization, a constant edge of self-awareness that never yields to either formal pomposities or fashionable fragmentation. Renoir has said that every director struggles between interior reality, the reality of the constructed world of the studio, and exterior reality, the reality of the world of nature. But his point is not the final commitment to one or the other, but the dynamics of the struggle itself…. The greatness of his films more often lies in their...
(The entire section is 1882 words.)
[Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir] is something of a bundle of reminiscences…. The old-fashioned feeling of the picture comes less from the absence of modern editing and camera dynamics than from deliberate return to passé points of view: the fairy-tale artifice of the first episode with obviously false snowflakes; the comic cinematic discomfort of large operatic gesture in the second episode….
This reminiscent atmosphere in Le Petit Théâtre promotes a feeling of ease. It's a film made by a man who knows why he has chosen as he has and how to fulfill his choices. The picture feels almost as if it had been made before, as if it were a three-part play in a repertory and these...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
It is easy enough to recognize the visual beauty of [The Golden Coach] and especially of the colors, and to acknowledge the thematic links with other Renoir works—the nature-artifice conflict, the erection and dismantling of class barriers—but apart from these the film seems to offer little more than a somewhat obvious reworking of the question posed so bluntly by Camilla: "Where does the theater end and life begin?"
Renoir might in fact have done better to eliminate this line, which hardens the ambiguous and subtle structure of the film into rather too crude a formula…. [He] uses the ability of the cinema to make a series of artificially staged events look real to conduct an...
(The entire section is 279 words.)
[The Lower Depths (Les Bas-Fonds), The Diary of a Chambermaid, and Picnic on the Grass] possess an incredible richness of idea and imagination, partly because of their strangeness. If Renoir's art were wholly a function of its thematic complexity … I'd have to put them among the glories of his career. But I am not persuaded that such complexity is always greatness, though it is a great boon to essay writers, or that there is so much foolishness in the vulgar common view that celebrates Renoir the populist realist or the nature-loving son of his famous father. That view isn't false; it is merely incomplete. (p. 22)
Renoir's realism follows several different lines. Some of it belongs to...
(The entire section is 1067 words.)
Neither a major nor a minor work in the Renoir canon, Toni demands to be regarded more as an adventure of the director in contact with his material than as an integral and 'finished' composition. If the symmetrical framing device of the train arriving with fresh immigrants at the beginning and end of the film appears somewhat forced in relation to the whole, this is likely because Renoir began with notions of a social thesis and a Zola-derived sense of fatality from which his better instincts subsequently deviated. And it is the instinctual rather than the conceptual side of Toni that renders it a living work forty years after it was made…. Over and around the largely melodramatic plot is draped an...
(The entire section is 336 words.)
So far as the relationship between camera and action is concerned, [Swamp Water] marks a striking transfiguration of style. One might plausibly attribute it to Renoir's versatility (adapting his style to his material) or his prudence (adapting his style to the Hollywood consensus), or his responsiveness to actors (allowing the Hollywood actors to key the film's tone and tempo), or even the influence of producer, photographer, editor and studio, or to all these factors together. Its individuality lies in its sense of people handing things to one another, rather than confronting one another….
In certain aspects, Swamp Water compromises between a Western and Toni. It resembles the...
(The entire section is 1093 words.)
Along with those of Vigo, the films of Jean Renoir are the most tentative in the history of the cinema. They work by indirection, implying qualities and attitudes that are rarely stated directly. Occasionally, something like a choric comment by one of his characters gives us a clue to Renoir's own atittude, a clue that we might be tempted to relate to something similar said by another character in a different film. For Renoir's films add up to one immensely rich and varied single work. Renoir himself is obviously conscious of this continuity. (p. 68)
More so than with any other film-maker, each individual film by Jean Renoir gains depth and lucidity when placed in the context of his complete works,...
(The entire section is 3161 words.)
[La Chienne] is quite a technical achievement. At a time when sound was in its puling infancy, there are atmospheric existential noises; when lenses were primitive, there is considerable deep focus; when equipment was heavy, there is much effective camera movement. And there is more: a story in which conventional concepts of good and evil are treated with a flexibility bordering on iconoclasm—which was most innovative of all….
La Chienne is far from a great film. Based on an insignificant novel, it has a rather preposterous plot; its characters are, for the most part, either too stupid to follow up on options that any fool would grab at, or, like the hero's wife, so simplistically...
(The entire section is 255 words.)
Phillipe R. Perebinossoff
In The Rules of the Game, made in 1939, Renoir uses amateur theatricals to suggest the breakdown of the aristocracy and in Grand Illusion, finished in 1937, the theatricals in which soldiers dress in drag reflect the imbalances in society during wartime. (p. 50)
It is Robert de la Chesnaye in The Rules of the Game who suggests a celebration to honor the aviator Andre Jurieu, the hero of the moment…. Having "fun" is a duty which he takes seriously.
Theatricality is a very important part of la Chesnaye's life. His attempt to preserve his way of life is closely linked with the theater…. La Chesnaye protects himself from changes in the outside world by involving...
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Renoir's career was a river of personal expression. The waters may have varied in turbulence and depth, but the flow of his personality was consistently directed to its final outlet in the sea of life. If the much abused term "humanism" could have been applied to Renoir's art and to no one else's, it might have provided an accurate definition for his work as a whole. In Renoir's films, man's natural surroundings are almost always prominently featured, and it is this emphasis on man in his natural environment photographed by an unblinking camera that is the true precursor of neorealism. As Murnau represented the formal antithesis to Eisenstein's montage principles, Renoir represented the thematic alternative to...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
Elizabeth Grottle Strebel
Renoir's receptivity to the French Left and active involvement with it played a critical role in shaping his artistic vision at a time when he was consciously evolving his own cinematic language…. Le Crime de M. Lange (1935) and La Marseillaise (1937) can both be seen as major artistic expressions of Popular Front consciousness. (p. 36)
In Toni we are dealing exclusively with a rural milieu, characterised by its initial appearance of openness, with an emphasis on exteriors captured in long shots with a wide angle lens. But in Toni we find a nature that is pressing in, confining, like the massive rock surfaces of the quarry which dwarf the workers and threaten to crush...
(The entire section is 615 words.)
La Petite Marchande d'allumettes represents the first full flowering of a tendency that runs through Renoir's films from 1924 to 1970, a tendency to create an atmosphere of strangeness and unreality, to evoke the quality the French call féerique. Only this one among Renoir's films has that quality throughout; more often, it emerges within a prevailing naturalism to lend a sense of enchantment to a scene. (p. 43)
La Petite Marchande d'allumettes remains at least a lovely fantasy, constructed with delicacy and visual imagination, very nearly maintaining its fairy-tale atmosphere unbroken throughout. (p. 49)
On purge bébé is Renoir's film that comes...
(The entire section is 3109 words.)