Anthony Bay was recognised in 2012 as a Condé Nast
Top Travel Specialist for France & Provence
Renoir Comes to the States in February
The much acclaimed film ‘Renoir’ by French Director Gilles Bourdas arrives in America this month, premiered during the 18th “Rendez Vous with French Cinema” season at the Lincoln Center, February 28 thru March 10 and on general distribution from May.
Lavishly shot in the South of France, the film is based on the true story of Renoir in 1917, crippled with arthritis and mourning the death of his wife. Tormented also over the fate of his son Jean fighting in the trenches, the great painter seemed to have lost his sparkle.
And then into his life, almost miraculously, arrives the voluptuous and bewitching young Andrée Heuschling, who becomes his last model and muse, lightening up his life and giving him new energy and inspiration for his paintings. Not long after, Jean returns wounded from the trenches, and quickly falls in love with Andrée.
Whilst the film concentrates solely on these few events, its glorious images – of the life of a painter in Provence, the beauty of his models and of the countryside they all lived in – mean that the 1hr50m pass effortlessly for the viewer. Certainly the acting is superb throughout : Michel Bouquet, now 87 and a veritable institution in France, brilliantly portrays the ageing and complex Renoir. Meanwhile 21 year old Christa Théret, one of France’s hottest young stars today, effortlessly captures both the passion and the wild, untamable spirit of Andrée that so dazzled the Renoir men.
We know that Jean Renoir went on to marry Andrée and took her to Hollywood with him where, under the stage name of Catherine Hessling, she worked on many of his movies in the 20s. They parted company in 1931 and whilst Jean pursued a brilliant career in film – Orson Wells called him “the greatest of all Directors” – Andrée withdrew from public life and died anonymously.
In France the film has received universal acclaim for the beauty of its images and the quality of acting, but it has also been criticized for having too thin a storyline, and being overly beautiful at the expense of substance.
The film also triggered a terse exchange of words between Jacques Renoir, the artist’s great grandson, and the director Bourdas. Perhaps angered that Bourdas had not mentioned his book about this period of his great grandfather’s life (which Bourdas had read before filming), and also by the fact that he had been unable to raise money to shoot his own version, Renoir dismissed the film as a “minor sketch shot by an opportunist “, whilst Bordas retorted “I understand the sentiments of a direct descendent who dreams of making such a film”.
La Domaine des Collettes, the house in Cagnes in which Renoir lived during the period of this film, is currently closed for renovation until July of this year.