Jean Renoir

 

 

In a previous post of mine

 

“on aesthetic and cultural appreciation of literature and film; my favorite directors”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/15/on-aesthetic-and-cultural-appreciation-of-literature-and-film-my-favorite-directors/

 

I discussed two of my favorite directors: Yasujirō Ozu and Robert Bresson.

I would like to add a third name: Jean Renoir. Renoir is better known than Bresson and certainly Ozu.

 

 

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Son of the impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean Renoir (1894-1979) was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer and author. He made more than forty films from the silent era to the end of the 1960’s. La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion, 1937) and La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game, 1939) are his best known films.

Other films of Renoir which I have seen are La Chienne (The Bitch); Boudu sauvé des eaux (Boudu Saved From Drowning); The Southerner (1945), one of Renoir’s American films, which I saw at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and The River (1951), Renoir’s first color film, which was shot in India and is based on the novel of the same name by Rumer Godden.

 

 

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The River is my favorite Renoir film; I have seen it many times over. It is a coming of age story of three young girls in colonial India. I love the cinematography, the local color, and the music. The soon to become famous (and marvelous) Indian director Satyajit Ray was an assistant on the film.

Rumer Godden (1907-1998) was a prolific English author who grew up with her three sisters in Narayanganj, colonial India (now in Bangladesh). Her father was a shipping company executive. The film is true to these biographical facts. It beautifully portrays female adolescence, about which I would ordinarily have little insight or understanding. As compelling as the film is, I had the experience of reading the novel (being motivated to do so by the film) and, though it was well written, I had trouble understanding parts of it.

From the opening notes of the film, you feel like you are in another place (India), another culture, another time (colonial India in the 1920’s). You are immediately caught up in it. The film has a sweep, dramatic pace, and compelling details of plot, setting, and character that keep the viewer riveted. The music is outstanding.

A Wikipedia entry states:

 

A number of Godden’s novels are set in India, the atmosphere of which she evokes through all the senses; her writing is vivid with detail of smells, textures, light, flowers, noises and tactile experiences. … Her plots often involve unusual young people not recognized for their talents by ordinary lower or middle-class people but supported by the educated, rich, and upper-class, to the anger, resentment, and puzzlement of their relatives.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumer_Godden

 

This is on target and accurate. Godden collaborated on the screenplay for the film.

 

 

 

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This past week, I had the opportunity to see, for the first time, one of Renoir’s best films, Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (The Crime of Monsieur Lange, 1935), in a newly restored print, shown at the Film Forum in New York. It’s a wonderful film, one of Renoir’s best, I feel. In fact, I would say that it is more “modest” than La Grande Illusion and La Règle du Jeu, and I liked it better. Le Crime de Monsieur Lange is based on story by Jean Castanier that was adapted for screen by the well-known French writer Jacques Prévert.

Watching the film reminded me what I like most about Renoir:

— wonderful characters; so many of them all together “on stage” at the same time joshing and jabbering and interacting in all sorts of ways, often trying to one up/get the best of one another; flirting, boasting, conning another. Funny, authentic, original, they keep popping up, doing something whacky, touching, or inimitable, or saying something piquant; and returning a minute or two later

— it’s wonderful to hear them speaking French

— the characters are completely individual and inimitable; so idiosyncratic; Renoir exhibits a love of humanity in all its imperfectness and wonderful individuality

That’s what I like best about Renoir: his apparent love of people with all their foibles (as well as Paris). At the end of Le Crime de Monsieur Lange. … (Well, I won’t spoil the plot.) As in the Japanese director Ozu’s marvelous films, Renoir’s characters seem to be REAL; they don’t seem to be actors or to be acting. It’s hard to believe that they are not the same persons as the characters they represent.

Compare Hollywood. Is there, was there ever, such a Hollywood actor?

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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