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by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 5, 2013

This gorgeously lit (and moodily under-lit) film by Gilles Bourdos features the renowned painter Pierre-August Renoir (Michel Bouquet), but focuses just as much, if not more, on middle son Jean Renoir (Vincent Rottiers), who returned home from battle in World War I to recover from a leg wound and fell in love with his father's model, Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret), an aspiring actress who coaxed Jean to enter the young medium of cinema. (He went on, of course, to become one of the great filmmakers.)

As a Valentine to both masters -- the painter and the filmmaker -- "Renoir" is almost self-consciously beautiful in composition and stately in tone and pacing. This is not a boring movie by any means, but it does cloak itself in a certain gravitas. There are many moments of grace here, and just as many occasions for beauty, but little in the way of out and out laughter. By the same token, there are also only a couple of scenes of high drama in the sense of dudgeon and posturing; the old man (everyone, even his children, call him "the boss") and his son have it out at one point, but the moment feels earned and isn't drawn out. A subsequent scene in a bordello skirts the seedy, and almost makes one flinch if for no other reason than that so much of the film unfolds in tranquil surrounds, characterized by quiet and natural light (or the golden glow of early electric illumination).

Much of the real drama here is internal: The elder Renoir struggles against time, and his own failing body. Rheumatoid arthritis makes holding a brush difficult, but the artist feels that he's not finished observing and experimenting yet. Jean, on the other hand, is having a hard time entering his life. Like many a young man, he's suspended in uncertainty -- but also, like many a soldier, he's unwilling to embrace a life of family and profession while there's a war still going on that all his comrades are fighting, even as he recovers from his own wounds.

Andrée, for her part, has just as much growing up to do as young Jean: When push comes to shove, and romance (so easy to get lost in at Renoir's rural remove) clashes with the world's harsher realities, the model takes some serious re-assessment of herself, telling Jean, "Girls like me live through magazines. We play the femme fatale and end up maids." What saves them both is art.

This release offers just a couple of extras, and one of those is a trailer. The other is comprised of interviews with Bouquet and Rottiers, who mostly talk about their characters and working with Bourdos.

(In French with English subtitles)

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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