Jean Renoir Gideon Bachmann - Essay

Gideon Bachmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 artist, and the film of a man.

Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe involves figures symbolizing (perhaps!) various aspects of all men…. Cleverly, his framework ("story") is derived from what could pass as our everyday life, and Renoir plays Oriental storyteller in involving us through our own apertures. What finally "occurs" is as unimportant as continuity, theme, montage, focus, and all the other rigidities of movie-making. At the same time the film is abstract, in the sense that a painting is an abstraction of nature, and it is unmatched in some areas: color, frame compositions, stylized acting …, and above all in feeling, in that overriding emotional quality which only the really great films have: in conveying the presence of its making….

Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe is a unique film—a seemingly effortless pleasantry, impressionistic and yet surreal, full of the unexpected as life is, almost facile in impact but lasting in the perturbations it causes. It is in the true sense a demanding film, but it demands nothing of us save to be ourselves. (p. 41)

Gideon Bachmann, "Film Reviews: 'Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1960 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XIV, No. 2, Winter, 1960, pp. 40-1.