Pierre-Auguste and Jean Renoir connect through the same muse in this painterly portrait of a creative family at a pivotal point in history.
Director: Gilles Bourdos
Script: Michel Spinosa, Jerome Tonnerre Gilles Bourdos from a work by Jacques Renoir
Cast: Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Roittiers, Thomas Doret, Romaine Bohringer
111mins Drama French with subtitles
Imagine a warm Mistral wind wafting a fragrant cloud of lavender along a sun-drenched Provençal hillside and you have the essence of Gilles Bourdos’s latest film. Captured through the painterly lens of Mark Lee Ping Bin, who also lensed In The Mood For Love and Norwegian Wood, this languorous drama is in no particular hurry to tell its story thanks to leisurely performances from Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret and Vincent Rottiers who shine through despite the safe script which chooses not to expose any emotional skeletons hiding in the Renoir household. Instead, the story feels its way gently through rich colours, vibrant tones and evocative turn of the century detail, sensuously capturing Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s creative life as he paints compulsively from dawn til dusk, the need flowing out of him and onto the canvas.
The light-hearted tone of Renoir is in complete contrast to that of Camille Claudel: 1915, Bruno Dumont’s tortured study of a contemporary artist, who was languishing distraught in a mental asylum nearby, unable to pursue her craft. In contrast to Juliette Binoche’s ‘no holds barred’ emotionally raw exposé of Camille Claudel, Bourdos’s Renoir is a buttoned-up, winsome affair, which has the painter relishing his dotage in a quiet villa by the sea surrounded by beauty and kindness, cosseted from the unspeakable horrors of the Great War which was raging in the trenches of the Somme, a few hours to the North.
Crippled by painful arthritis but wistfully reflecting on widowerhood, the artist here is in the mood for love realising that his wellbeing depends on being able to paint and sketch with the inspiration of a muse. Michel Bouquet dabbles and experiments with tones, hues and textures on a palette for all to see; sketching studies in pencil before attempting his portraits and compositions.
Then into the picture drifts Andrée (Christa Théret) an unappealing coquette of dubious background, looking for a leg-up on the back of a rich man who’s looking for a leisurely leg-over and companionship, more than real sexual passion, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe in Gilles Bourdos’s version, which fails to plummet any depths beyond those of Renoir’s solvent jar. With a pretty face and a high opinion of herself, Andrée has little respect for Renoir’s talent or indeed his status at this stage in the game. Rubbing all the female staff up the wrong way, she succeeds in snaring the vulnerable Renoir and gradually a modus vivendi develops as they settle contentedly into a gentle routine, very much due to the old man’s wisdom and understanding of the nature of women: “All my life I’ve had complication, now I simply want peace”.
But the calm is soon ruffled by the arrival of his elder son, Jean, (Vincent Rottiers) wounded and battle-scared from the front, and the household dynamic shifts once again. Vincent Rottiers plays a diffident Jean Renoir, wracked by uncertainty and his duty as a soldier. Andrée spreads her affections to accommodate this younger man, who is in someways easier prey, although it’s hard to believe that this creative father and son could be so placid and seemingly benign about sharing their joint lover. There is a cameo from Thomas Doret, (of The Kid With A Bike fame), who plays the disgruntled, younger son (Coco) and the only one who appears to display any real emotion.
Renoir drifts along gracefully without rocking any boats. It’s an atmospheric drama, steeped in summer and seductive charm but totally lacking in any real passion despite the rich potential of its subject matter. This is an outing for those wanting the milk chocolate box version of the Renoir story rather than the juicy and salacious underbelly. MT
RENOIR IS ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 28th JUNE AT THE CURZON, BARBICAN, CINE LUMIERE, GREENWICH PICTUREHOUSE AND WATERMANS ART CENTRE CINEMA.