Renoir

“The work of art must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself, carry you away. It is the means by which the artist conveys his passion; it is the current which he puts forth which sweeps you along in his passion.”

– Pierre-Auguste Renoir, from Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir

A viewing of Renoir is like a masterclass from the artist himself: a study in light and contrast, in nature and landscape, in colour and softness. Every frame evokes the late summer days of Provence reflected in the paintings of an Impressionist landscape, with its vibrant sun-soaked palette and warmly sensuous detail. Against this background, Andrée’s (Christa Theret) red hair dances like a sparkling flame, enticing and inspiring both Renoir the Elder and the Younger.

Without doubt, Renoir is an homage to art in all forms, as embodied by the painter and filmmaker; the cinematography lends itself ideally to imagining oneself within a Renoir painting, and the various symbolic nods to J. Renoir’s greatest films hint at things yet to come. However, it is also a homage to France, and more specifically, French identity, particularly following World War I. The lush female sensuality of Renoir’s paintings exist in sharp but subtle contrast to the bloodshed of a nation at war, reminders of which the younger Renoir carries with him into every scene. The parallels between the dialogues on changing art forms – the classical evocations of Rubens and nature into the world of filmmaking – echo a national shift in identity, as the French slowly recover from the devastating ordeal of combat and proceed forward into the fray of the twentieth century. The younger Renoir is witness to this transition, as he finds Andrée in an underground cafe laden in Weimar-era “wickedness” (yet another musing on the European interwar identity shift).

Ruminations on art philosophy as presented in Renoir could be a rather lengthy affair, but it is interesting to note how it also presents a subtle criticism of the power of the male gaze in female classical representation. Nevertheless, an actual narrative gives way to a more pensive and nostalgic view of art and France, from its classical beginnings transitioning to a modern, and perhaps more realistic, place in post-WWI. While the plot never quite settles, it is nonetheless a feast for the senses, leaving one with the taste of idyllic summer days of riverside and a flash of red hair.

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