Review: Renoir


RenoirAs the crème de la crème of the film industry begins invading the French Riviera for the 2013 Festival de Cannes, it is quite apropros for a movie about one of the Impressionist masters who spent his last days in the lush French countryside to open this week at the Regal Arbor here in Austin.

Based upon Jacques Renoir's work Le Tableau Amoureux, director and screenwriter Gilles Bourdos' drama Renoir paints a lush vignette of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet) at the age of 74. Arthritis wreaks havoc on his body, and his middle son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) is dealing with his own combat wounds from his World War I mobilization.

The pair are both enamored and inspired by Renoir's latest model, the fiery headstrong young Andrée (Christa Theret). Pierre-Auguste's grief over the death of his wife Aline is lightened by Andrée's free-spirited nature and graceful body. Despite Jean's determination to rejoin his comrades once he's recovered from his injuries, his love for Andree inspires him to plan for a future in cinema as a filmmaker. 

The strength and intrigue of Renoir is the familial dynamic between father and sons. The elder Renoir grieves the wartime absence of his eldest sons Jean and Pierre, and we see his mood lift greatly when Jean returns home to convalesce. Meanwhile youngest son Claude aka "Coco" (Thomas Doret) proclaims himself an orphan, only spoken to by his father when he's scolding. Conversations and interactions with former Renoir model and nanny Gabrielle (Romane Bohringer) affirm the power of women over the Renoirs throughout their lives.

The cinematography, art direction and costume design of Renoir masterfully re-create the Impressionist style of its main subject. The staging for and inclusion of many of Renoir's masterpieces -- created for the film by master forger Guy Ribes upon his release from jail -- thoroughly engage fans of Renoir. The score is a bit heavy-handed at times but contributes much to the visual portrait.

The performances in Renoir are impeccable, especially Bouquet's full immersion into the emotional complexity and physical deterioration of his character. Theret is grossly underused in her role as the vivacious Andrée, although she receives a bit more attention in the final act, where she demonstrates her pivotal role in Jean Renoir's future. Rottiers is quite believable as a young man trying to find himself outside his father's shadow. Bohringer solidly if only briefly portrays the woman who most likely had the most impact on Jean Renoir's life from infancy to his elderly years.

Unfortunately, with a running time of almost two hours, the film suffers from a lack of brevity with not much happening throughout much of the film. My comprehension of the French dialogue had me concerned with the loss of meaning in the translation from French into English subtitles. Of greatest note is the use of "the boss" for the the word "patron" when referencing the elderly Pierre-Auguste. Ironically it was Jean Renoir who was known in his later formidable filmmaker years as "The Boss."

Renoir will appeal to fans of both father and son, although some may notice historical discrepancies that may be due to a bit of creative license imparted by the film's screenwriters. Despite this issue and the lengthiness of the film, I would most certainly recommend viewing this movie on the big screen to fully embrace its artistic design.