Posts Tagged ‘Renoir’

3 Films in praise of Julien Duvivier

Julien Duvivier (1896-1967) was a prominent French film director largely active between 1930-1960 and best known for his early silent films and thrillers such as Pépé Le MokoLa Bandera, Life dances on, and Marianne de ma Jeunesse. He began life as an actor but after a disaster on stage, he moved on to write and direct, later relating the incident in his 1939 film La fin du Jour, with Michel Simon playing his character.

After working for Andre Antoine at Gaumont, Duvivier directed his first film in 1919. His early work was often religious in nature: La Tragédie de Lourdes, and La Vie Miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin which explored the Carmelite saint Thérèse de Liseux. Gaining experience with seminal French directors Marcel l’Herbier and Louis Feuillade, his first successful drama David Golder (1931) was a rags to riches story of an ambitious Polish Jew who falls foul of his wife. In 1934 Duvivier began a collaboration with Jean Gabin that would see them working together in The Imposter (1944), Pépé Le Moko, and La Belle Equipe (They Were Five). Like his countryman Jacques Tourneur, Duvivier moved to Hollywood and enjoyed the experience working with Charles Boyer, Edward G Robinson, Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power. But like Tourneur he eventually went back to France where he often cast Fernandel, Alain Delon, George Sanders and Michel Simon in his dramas.

Revered by legends such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Duvivier is still one of the greatest figures in the history of French cinema and possibly the most neglected, due to the uneven yet thematically varied nature of his work. Critic Michael Atkinson sees the poetic realist pioneer as “a victim of auteurism, ignored for generations by critics who saw…his output as the work of an able journeyman without signature or invention,” Duvivier, Atkinson argues compellingly, “rarely let a dull or unevocative shot pass through his camera,” and his films “fairly leap and swoon with visual cogency, surprising compositional drama, and a quintessentially French embrace of narrative life, equal parts funeral and fete.” Despite all this, his best films are stellar and treasured by cinefiles all over the world. He died in a car crash in 1967.

Julien Duvivier taps into post-war France’s paranoia in PANIQUE (1944), a long unavailable thriller, adapted from a Georges Simenon novel. Proud, eccentric and anti-social, Monsieur Hire (Michel Simon) has always kept to himself. But after the body of a woman turns up in the Paris suburb where he lives, he feels drawn to a pretty young newcomer to town (Viviane Romance), discovers his neighbours are only too ready to be suspicious of him, and is framed for the murder. Duvivier’s first outing after his return to France from Hollywood, sees the acclaimed poetic realist applying his consummate craft to darker, moodier ends. Led by two deeply nuanced performances, the tensely noirish Panique exposes the dangers of the knives-out mob mentality, delivering a pointed allegory of the behaviour of Duvivier’s countrymen during the war.


But Julien Duvivier’s 1956 thriller DEADLIER THAN THE MALE  (Voici les temps des Assassins) somehow manages to outdo them all when it comes to violent women in film Noir: Catherine (Delorme) is the daughter of the drug depending Gabrielle (Bogaert), and tries to escape from the milieu by marrying the restaurant owner Andre Chatelin (Gabin), who has divorced her mother. Telling him that Gabrielle is dead, the scheming Catherine succeeds in marrying the much older man, who soon learns that his wife is lying about her mother. He more or less imprisons her with her mother Antoinette (Bert), also a restaurant owner, who kills her chicken with a whip – which she also uses on Catherine. The frightened woman asks Andre’s friend, the student Gerard (Blain), to kill her husband, but when he refuses, she kills him. Her end – by the fangs of a particular vicious animal – is particularly gruesome. Again, the images of Armand Thirad are undeserving of this blatant ideology.


The notorious Pépé LE MOKO (Jean Gabin, in a truly iconic performance) plunges into the gangster underworld as a wanted man: women long for him, rivals hope to destroy him, and the law is breathing down his neck at every turn. On the lam in the labyrinthine Casbah of Algiers, Pépé is safe from the clutches of the police–until a Parisian playgirl compels him to risk his life and leave its confines once and for all. One of the most influential films of the 20th century and a landmark of French poetic realism, Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le moko is presented here in its full-length version. AVAILABLE FROM CRITERION COLLECTION | Amazon Prime










Renoir (2013) ***

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




Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 4-7th April 2013

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the annual showcase of the best in contemporary French film, takes place at Curzon Soho and Ciné Lumière from April 4-7 and promises to be an exciting long weekend of French talent.

During 4 days, Rendez-Vous is an opportunity to discover some of the best of recent French productions and to get to know the actors and directors during the Q&As following each screening.


In the French region of Landes, near Bordeaux, marriages are arranged to merge land parcels and unite neighboring families. Thérèse Larroque becomes Mrs. Desqueyroux (Audrey Tatou). But her avant‐garde ideas clash with local conventions and she will resort to tragically extreme measures to break out of the bourgeois lifestyle imposed on her…Claude Miller’s film was a big hit at Cannes 2012 and also stars Anais Demoustier (Elles)  and Gilles Lellouche.

Audrey Tatou (Coco Before Chanel) will be attending a Q&A at the Curzon Soho on April 5th at 6.00pm 


Set in fifties France, Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Romain Duris (Heartbreaker) star in this tale about a simple girl from Normandy who gets noticed because of her special skill….It’s a French Dr Dolittle from Director, Regis Ronsard.

Screening April 4th at 6.15 at the Curzon Soho and April 5th 8.15pm at the Cine-Lumiere with Q&A with Romain Duris, Regis Ronsard and Berenice Bejo.




Fabrice Luchini (In the House) plays a grumpy, retired actor living in the Ile de Re who’s offered the chance to return to the stage once more as Moliere’s Misantrope. Also stars Lambert Wilson.

Director, Philippe Le Guay will be in on stage to answer questions after the screening at the Cine Lumiere on April 6th 2013.


In 1915 Pierre Auguste Renoir is living out his twilight years in the luscious landscape of Provence when a beautiful model (Christa Theret) ignites his passions and those of his son Jean Renoir who arrives back from the First World War.

Christa Theret, Michel Bouquet and Vincent star in the Gilles Bourdas’s film which will screen at the Curzon Soho on April 6th at 6.00pm and April 7th, 6.15pm at the Cine-Lumiere.  A Q&A with the director and Christa Theret will follow.


A delightful animated story for children about a 10-year-old Maki’s adventures with an orphaned giraffe from Remi Bezancon and Jean-Christophe Lie

Screening at the Curzon Soho on Sunday April 7th with Q&A with Remi Bezancon.


Joachim Lafosse’s troubling tale of a mixed race marriage between a charming French girl (Emilie Dequenne) and her Moroccan beau (Tahir Rahim) and his controlling family headed by Niels Arestrup (You Will Be My Son).

Q&A with Joachim Lafosse to follow the screening at the Curzon Soho on April 7th at 6.15 pm.

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