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Set on the French Riviera in the summer of 1915, Jean Renoir -- son of the Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste -- returns home to convalesce after being wounded in World War I. At his side is Andrée, a young woman who rejuvenates, enchants, and inspires both father and son.
For more about Renoir and the Renoir Blu-ray release, see Renoir Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 12, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Rottiers, Thomas Doret
Director: Gilles Bourdos
» See full cast & crew
Renoir Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 12, 2013
Renoir is certainly one of the few—and perhaps the most iconic of—surnames that was able to migrate from the world of painting to the world of cinema. Pierre-Auguste Renoir is considered one of the most important painters in the Impressionist movement, one whose celebration of the female form created some of the most iconic paintings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But Renoir père bequeathed more than "only" art to the world—he also fathered three sons who would go on to considerable artistic achievement of their own. Eldest child Pierre Renoir went on to a long and varied film career as an actor, including a well remembered role in Marcel Carné's Children of Paradise. Youngest son Claude Renoir, nicknamed Coco, achieved fame as a ceramic artist, but he also assisted on a couple of films by the Renoir who would go on to arguably the most notable career of the Renoir sons: middle child Jean Renoir, who traversed both the Gallic and American film industries, and who was the guiding force behind two films that are generally conceded to be among the greatest of the century, La Grande Illusion and The Rules of the Game. Jean obviously didn't suffer from "middle child" syndrome, though some accounts suggest a certain loneliness fostered by long years at boarding schools where he was kept from the sylvan environment of his father's estate in Essoyes. Renoir, an incredibly beautiful 2012 film written and directed by Gilles Bourdos (Afterwards ), links father and middle son in a languorous story of beginnings and endings, playing out amidst the calm, nurturing breezes of the gorgeous French countryside. The film opens in 1915, with the aging Auguste (Michel Bouquet) suffering from debilitating arthritis but determined not to let that stop him from creating. ("Pain will pass, beauty remains forever," he states at one point.) A headstrong young girl named Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret) shows up at Renoir's estate one day, claiming that Mrs. Renoir had recommended she drop by to model for her husband. She's met by young Coco (Thomas Doret), who initially shows her to the main house's door but then screams at her that she's a liar since Mrs. Renoir is dead.
This conceit is one of the few overtly fanciful elements in Renoir, which otherwise hews fairly close to what is evidently the true historical record (culled from the writings of Jacques Renoir, Pierre's grandson). In actuality, Andrée was reportedly recommended to Renoir by his good friend Henri Matisse, but in Renoir, the elder painter's deceased wife Aline (Michèle Gleizer) still shows up from time to time in spectral form to help her aging husband out as she is able. Andrée proves to be a suitable muse for Auguste, and she soon becomes a regular around the Renoir household, especially sparking young Coco's interest (Coco is depicted as an adolescent when he really would have been more of a toddler at this point). Andrée seems to have a rather outsized opinion of herself, calling herself an "artist" in front of the legendary Auguste, and demanding twice the usual model's pay of five Francs for her daily services.
Jean (Vincent Rottiers) returns unexpectedly one day, having been seriously injured in World War I (the real life Jean suffered from this leg injury for the rest of his life). Jean has a bit of a difficult time adjusting to life under his father's thumb—the two seem slightly estranged for reasons which are frankly never adequately explained—but he almost immediately entranced by Andrée, and before too long, the two have embarked upon an affair. Andrée has already made it clear that she will not be the latest in a long line of models who became the elder Renoir's paramours (these included Jean's own mother Aline, as a matter of fact), and in a way Andrée almost seems dismissive of Auguste's talents (one especially memorable scene has her throwing a tantrum and destroying a set of Auguste's early examples of porcelain paintings on plates). Andrée has seen the future, and it is in film, and she attempts to urge Jean to escape from his father's looming shadow by at least looking into this nascent art form.
One might expect Renoir to dabble in the Freudian subtext of a father and son both interested in the same woman, but the film is surprisingly sweet tempered about it all, despite Andrée's occasional outbursts. Renoir has a typically French laissez faire attitude about the quietly roiling emotional issues swirling through the Renoir family, and what results is an admittedly slow but never less than captivating portrait (no pun intended) of a family dealing with the impending demise of the paterfamilias while the children attempt to forge their own identities under somewhat trying circumstances. Renoir is often like a painting come to life itself. Bourdos and cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee light the frame magically, with sun dappled glints peeking through trees and effulgent back glows surrounding characters like virtual haloes.
Renoir has been selected by France to be its official entry in next year's Academy Awards race for Best Foreign Language Film, but my hunch is the film is simply not dramatic enough to ultimately earn the statuette. The film shies away from some of the epochal events hovering around its edges, none more so than the devastation wreaked on veterans of World War I. But even its intimacy is a bit tempered, refraining from overt histrionics and instead spending more time in smaller scale moments. That may disappoint some who want more "in your face" content, but for those who can while away the hours at a museum simply sitting and staring at a beautiful piece of art, Renoir has more than a mere brush (sorry) with greatness.
Renoir Blu-ray, Video Quality
Renoir is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Cinedigm with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. This film is, in a word, sumptuous, filled with an incredible interplay of light, shadow and gentle color that is beautifully rendered in this high definition presentation. Director Gilles Bourdos and cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee favor light passing through items like tree leaves or smoke or haze, and it creates a diffused, gauzy appearance that some may mistake for a soft transfer. That manifestly is not the case, as a cursory review of the excellent fine detail will show. Take a look, for example, at herringbone pattern of the elder Renoir's coat in the first screenshot accompanying this review, or the webbing of the hat Andrée wears in screenshot 11). A lot of the film is dripping in a golden honey color, which contrasts beautifully with Andrée auburn-orange hair, but the film indulges in an incredibly wide palette, much of which obviously intentionally echoes the work of Renoir père. Contrast is strong and black levels are very consistent throughout this presentation. This is simply one lovely looking film which benefits immensely from this high definition presentation.
Renoir Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Renoir features a subtle but quite effective lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in the original French (with optional English subtitles, which are generally quite faithful to the dialogue). The film is quite quiet almost all of the time, but there is still some very nice surround activity—listen, for example, the gentle rustle of the breeze through the trees in several outdoor scenes. A longer sequence by a river features some nice immersion, with gurgling water noises spilling through the side channels. Dialogue is very cleanly presented, and Alexandre Desplat's haunting score, which traffics in minimalist ideas with none of the usual pretensions of that genre, sounds fantastic.
Renoir Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Renoir Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Renoir may not fully engage those who may want more drama between father and son as they seek to establish their roles with the beautiful and headstrong young Andrée. But for those who are willing to let an admittedly slow, deliberate film unspool at its own pace, there are manifold pleasures to be had here. The performances are excellent, and there is simply no way the film's visual beauty won't appeal to anyone who loves Renoir's paintings. I'll be surprised if this ends up snatching the Oscar (if it even makes the short list), but for those who love art films (literally and figuratively), Renoir comes Highly recommended.
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Renoir Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Gilles Bourdos' Renoir Selected to Represent France at the Oscars - September 16, 2013
France has selected director Gilles Bourdos' latest film, Renoir, to represent it at upcoming Academy Awards. The film stars Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Romane Bohringer, and Vincent Rottiers. Earlier this month, New Video Group, a division of Cinedigm Entertainment, ...
• Renoir Blu-ray - September 6, 2013
New Video Group, a division of Cinedigm Entertainment, will release on Blu-ray director Gilles Bourdos' latest film, Renoir (2012), starring Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Romane Bohringer, and Vincent Rottiers. The release will be available for purchase on November ...
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