I am an art lover, and Renoir is one of my favorite impressionists. Last year I read Luncheon of the Boating Party, a novel of historical fiction by Susan Vreeland. It is about Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s creation of the famous painting of the same name, painted beside the river Seine in France near Paris. It’s an excellent, intriguing book depicting how the painting may have come to life.
Not long after I read the book, an artist friend recommended the film Renoir. My artist husband and I watched it. It is a French film with English subtitles, and is rated R for sequences of art-related nudity and brief language.
The film is set in 1915, during a time that the elderly Renoir (Michel Bouquet) lived in the French Riviera. He has three sons who are at different stages of life. The youngest, Claude “Coco” (Thomas Doret) is portrayed as a little disturbed, and his older brother Jean (Vincent Rottiers) has enlisted in the military. His oldest son Pierre was injured in the war. A young redheaded woman, Andrée Heuschling (Christa Théret) arrives in the life of the family, and the elderly, crippled Renoir uses her as a model.
Jean returns from World War I after being wounded to convalesce at the home of his father in the Côte d’Azur. Jean soon falls in love with Andrée, even as she faces prejudice from the all-female household staff for her perceived special treatment. She is a strong-willed young woman, and causes no lack of drama in the home. Renoir’s wife Aline, who was much younger than him, has recently passed away. I remember reading about how he first met her while she was a model for him as he painted Luncheon of the Boating Party (she was the one with the little dog held in her hands).
The film’s color cinematography is exquisite, really capturing the light on the landscape that the great artist chose to immortalize in his work. The other portion where the film shines is in featuring Jean, and learning about his life and what shaped his choices. I had not realized that Jean Renoir was a great French filmmaker, and his wife Andrée an inspiration to his films. I read that he is considered one of the four best filmmakers in the history of cinema.
I felt a great deal of compassion for the elderly Renoir, as he is so crippled with rheumatoid arthritis that he has to have his paintbrush tied to his hand in order to use it to work with. He passed away at the age of 79.
If you enjoy art, or just good filmmaking, watch Renoir. It’s a glimpse into another age and the masters that lived during that time.