Jean Renoir Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 actors were coming out to give yet another performance for a director whom they know well. Part of this feeling comes from the fact that some of them do know Renoir well, part from the fact that the picture belongs to a familiar Renoir vein, and part from the fact that, without any conscious fervent adherence to principle, Renoir now can't help making films like Renoir—stylistically more so than ever, one might say….

The trouble with this ease of fabrication is that now we see it as fabrication of another sort. The film's first episode deals with two deaths, the second with two deaths, the third with humiliation swallowed, and all this is treated as material for a gently smiling work of life-accepting warmth. I don't argue that death and discomfort must necessarily be grim, but I get the feeling that Renoir in this vein could make a film in a cancer ward with one wistful tear and a Gallic shrug at the end.

Stanley Kauffmann, "'Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir'" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1974 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 170, No. 21, May 25, 1974, p. 22.