Culture: Film

Film review: Renoir


Stuart Wren finds that a biopic of Renoir is a case of style over substance.

Renoir is an artist I knew very little about before watching this film. To say that I still know very little about him indicates that there’s something wrong with a movie that while obviously loving his work and trying to emulate it on celluloid, gives us a story that is so lacking in any real depth or even in factual interest, that you come out thinking, yes, it’s beautiful, but what did I learn?

AndrĂ©e Heuschling comes to the home of aging artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir after being hired as a model. This feisty red-head soon becomes the painter’s muse as his household, made up of former models, bow down to his every wish, calling him ‘The Boss’ and literally carrying him to and from his private shack in his huge garden. Renoir is suffering from crippling diseases that make him scream with pain. Andree seems to bring out the best in him and he soon becomes inspired to paint her in every pose. Arriving back from war, Renoir’s son, Jean, becomes infatuated with the young girl, but soon, the untamed passion inside Andree starts to bring out a different side in the young man.

Director and co-writer Giles Bourdos has an obvious love for the work of Renoir. Indeed, his film is like a living, breathing Renoir painting, full of luscious sunlight and a delicious palette of colours of yellows, browns and greens. He also captures the wonder of the human form without it ever getting sleazy or uncomfortable (there is a lot of nudity and all credit to the BBFC for giving the film a 12A – a sign that things are changing when regards to nudity in film?). Each and every shot looks like a work of art and you are entranced by its stunning texture and use of lighting. Unfortunately, while he may have focused so heavily on the look, he forgot about the story.

Like the recent British film about the artist, AJ Munnings in Summer In February, it’s a delight on the eye but a bore on the ear. It simply doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no real narrative – just a series of montages delivered at a snail’s pace. I’m not suggesting the use of quick, music video editing or zooming camera work – the film certainly doesn’t attribute itself to that style of film making – but that the situations need to be engrossing to keep the audience’s attention and they aren’t.

The performances are, however, very good. Michel Bouquet makes Renoir a fragile old man who still has the passion of youth, even if his body is failing him. He isn’t always likeable but this makes for a much more believable performance. The unusually beautiful Christa Theret gives us a fiery Andree, a woman who has an opinion and isn’t afraid to share it. She is the pin that holds the film together and it’s a very strong performance. We can expect to see her in a lot more of her in the future. The weakest performance comes from Vincent Rottiers as future film maker Jean Renoir. The young actor (who has more than a passing resemblance to a young Edward Norton), comes across as lacking in confidence and on several occasions I wondered what Andree would see in him, considering how strong a character she was.

Many would describe this film as worthy. Certainly, you can’t fault the cinematography and the overall look of the piece, but at almost two hours, it was a long, hard slog to stop the eyes from closing. It didn’t engage me and it should have. Instead, it came across as dull.

Renoir is now on general release.

Words: Stuart Wren


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