Jean Renoir Marvin Zeman - Essay

Marvin Zeman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 his young maid….

It is interesting to compare Renoir's use of the Anderson story in "La Dernier Reveillon" to what he did with it in its predecessor, La Petite Marchande d'Allumettes. That film was made in 1928 when Renoir was young, and it has a young man's theme. Now, in his old age, Renoir is concerned with age, and the theme is changed accordingly. First, the young match girl is replaced by the two aging tramps. Second, and most important, Renoir changes the girl's dream. (p. 52)

Renoir seems to have attained the state of what the Japanese call mono no aware. According to Donald Richie this is "an elegiac emotion which occurs when we realize that the beauties and pleasures of our life will pass and fade and when we agree that, since this is the way it must be, it is therefore fitting that they do."… Renoir transmits this serenity partly through the simple settings and his unobtrusive camera. Whatever camera movement there is, is quite unnoticeable, and there are no camera tricks at all….

This is also an old man's film in the sense that Renoir's oeuvre is so rich that he can "borrow" from and refer to his past films in a very natural and subtle way. (p. 53)

[All] in all, the film is charming (not in a cloying way) and enjoyable. If it is not one of Renoir's best films, it is very close, despite the limitations of the episode form. (p. 54)

Marvin Zeman, "Reviews: 'The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1971 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Spring, 1971, pp. 51-4.