Getting to Know Renoir

February 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

Jean Renoir is a son of the renowned painter, Auguste Renoir.  I’ve been getting to know his films lately, and I’m blown away with every new one I see.  Unfortunately I’ve only seen them once apiece (Le carrosse d’or is the only exception), so these can only be my first thoughts on the films.  So far I’ve been introduced to Un partie de campagne, a black-and-white shorter film about Nature, class, and love; La grande illusion, a black-and-white film whose characters are French members of a German POW camp; La règle du jeu, a black-and-white film, the complexity of which layers beautifully over time – the plot blooms before your eyes; The River, a color film set in Bengal, India which is an adaptation of a book by the same title authored by Rumer Godden, and despite its initial criticism for not being a true depiction of India (No tigers?!) I found it a beautifully intimate portrayal of the Bengal way of life; and Le carrosse d’or, a color film that focuses on the romantic trials of a woman who (truly) belongs to an Italian acting troupe.

I have found Renoir’s regard for his actors to be remarkable.  He strongly encouraged a collaborative mise-en-scène – all that/those we see in the scene, but also that which the camera does not capture.  This collaboration could lead to overhauls of the already belabored script or shooting script, which was just as well to Renoir, as his faith in his art led him to know that it would all be for the best.

This dynamic on scene makes for a different breed of film. Renoir’s practice of making very few takes so that the characters were fresh may cause the characters to seem overplayed at face value, but it makes for a feeling of spectacle.  Renoir embraced the knowledge that a film is intrinsically a work of fiction.  He was comfortable leaving in shots where the actors would goof off, even joining in as in La règle du jeu, where he himself plays a supporting role.  But instead of distancing us from the film as a work, it should bring us in.  If we look for the signs from the actors, we can join their game.  Renoir leaves the door open for us to enjoy the making of the film as they did.

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