Jean Renoir Richard Whitehall - Essay

Richard Whitehall

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 pretext of showing reality the realists stick to one side of reality—the dark side. The truth is that only a poetic interpretation of reality can lead an audience to discover the truth."

Very much a film d'auteur, there is a core of deep seriousness; the submersion of the individual in a technological and scientific society….

There are no great set pieces, the whole production has an air of happy improvisation and complete spontaneity despite its careful pre-planning. There are numerous faults; the scales are weighted too heavily against the scientific view, which is hardly stated at all; the scenes preceding and following the main credit titles are suprisingly clumsy; several sequences, notably a Bacchic dance and a supernatural summer storm are too strenuously gay.

Against these flaws must be set the gaiety, the sheer exhilaration of this free expression of a fully integrated personality, to whom life and art are one and indivisible….

Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe may not be a masterpiece, but I have a feeling that in 20 years time, when currently popular perversities are crumbling in their cans, this film with its haunting generosity of spirit will still be splendidly alive.

Richard Whitehall, "New Films: 'Le dejeuner sur l'herbe'" (© copyright Richard Whitehall 1960; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 6, No. 9, June, 1960, p. 23.