Renoir (2012) Gilles Bourdos
Playing at the Spectrum Theater.
Bourdos’s film begins with the young red haired woman, Andree Heuschling (played by Christa Theret), cycling to what is to be her job as a model for the famous impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet). She becomes the fulcrum between the elder Renoir’s renewed vitality in painting during his later years in life, which were fraught with pain and immobility suffering from his rheumatoid arthritis, and the inspiration for his son, Jean Renoir (Vincent Rottiers), who would later become a highly acclaimed filmmaker.
The movie is an homage to Andree Heuschling’s role in the famous Renoirs’ lives but also a work of art in itself respectful to Renoir’s impressionist style. When we first meet the elder Renoir, the camera panning him evokes his own profile self-portrait of 1910. The cinematography becomes like the rolling canvasses that Renoir used to better enable him to paint with large works of art. The use of color and light in the scenery of the film, like the dappled light through the trees, are his brush strokes brought to life. I found myself taken in and enraptured by the scenery as if I were in a museum looking at his own paintings.
Tension and tenderness is a theme throughout the film, flowing between Andree and Pierre, as model and muse to the painter, between Andree and Pierre’s son Jean, who is recouperating from a war injury at his family’s home, and also between father and son. It is also present between the household staff of women who either begin as models and become maids or vice versa, and in the respect and familial love they have for Pierre Renoir. I very much enjoyed this film, a period piece based in between the space where one creative Renoir ends and another begins giving life and a back story to the paintings of Pierre-August Renoir.
[Sidebar: The director notes that he made this film for Andree Heuschling, who later became the wife of Jean Renoir and known as the actress Catherine Hessling. They later divorced and she drifted into obscurity while he gained notoriety in his career as a filmmaker to such greats as The Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game. While her role in both Renoir’s lives is important, what’s interesting to note is the relationship between Gabrielle Renard (played by Romane Bohringer) and the two Renoirs as well.
Gabrielle worked for the elder Renoir as a nanny to the young Jean and formed a strong bond to both of them, which is evidenced in Renoir’s painting Gabrielle et Jean. It was actually she who took Jean Renoir to see his first film when he was a child which later inspired him to become a filmmaker. They touch on this bond briefly in the film, but you see and feel the intense connection between Jean and Gabrielle]