“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” - Auguste Renoir
We watched a very enjoyable film at the weekend, which was a feast for the eyes and a wonderful respite from the stresses of everyday life. One of those film you sit back, look at and enjoy at a slow pace, relaxing and taking it all in, just quietly. Obviously it was not an action film, nor a thriller, nor an adventure story… It was Gilles Bourdos’ “Renoir”, starring Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret, Vincent Rottiers, Thomas Doret and Romane Bohringer.
The film is set on the French Riviera in the summer of 1915, where famous impressionist painter Auguste Renoir is in his dotage. He is still painting, however, and as was his custom still surrounding himself with beautiful young women who look after him in his country house on his estate. It is WWI, and his two eldest sons, Pierre and Jean (Vincent Rottiers), are at war, while his youngest, Claude – “Coco” (Thomas Doret), just a boy, plays around the estate, claiming to be an orphan (his mother dead and his father an old man). Out of the blue, a beautiful young woman (Christa Theret) comes to the estate, wishing to model for Renoir. Her beauty inspires the old man and he immediately engages her to be his model.
Jean Renoir arrives home and begins an affair with the model, Andrée Heuschling (who by-the-by, would later change her name to Catherine Hessling and star in many of Jean Renoir’s early films). The film looks at the relationships between all family members as Jean’s affair with Andrée progresses, as the elderly Renoir continues to paint and wisely offers advice to all around him.
The movie is beautifully shot and the cinematography by Ping Bin Lee is to die for. The gorgeous landscapes of Provence, the interiors, the exterior shots and the women could all be paintings by Renoir. The wonderful light of the Midi is captured wonderfully, as are the amazing landscapes. Alexandre Desplat provides an understated but lush score that complements the action very well. The plot is thin but maintains the viewer’s interest and there is enough action to keep one’s mind on the movie for its 112 minutes of run time. The acting is excellent throughout and the cast is extremely well-chosen – anyone familiar with Renoir paintings and family photographs will agree on that score. Michel Bouquet as the elderly, arthritic and cranky artist is magnificent.
This is a film worth seeing, especially if you are interested in art. It is based on historical fact, and suggesting what motivated the younger Renoir to become the extraordinary film-maker that he became. France submitted this film for the Academy Awards as Best Foreign Film (it didn’t win), and it also received a host of other nominations, but in the end succeeded in winning only one César Award for the best costume design.
It is a slow-moving, but satisfying film, with subtle humour, a lot of wryness and much heart-felt emotion. Don’t expect twists and turns, great drama, gun battles, explosions and special effects. Be prepared to be transported to an older, quieter, gentler time where people, however, still felt the same intense passions and emotions, and were beset by the same psychological problems we still face today.