Monday, May 27, 2013

Film Review: Gilles Bourdos' Renoir

I do not trust the cinematic taste of anyone who does not include Jean Renoir in their list of the greatest directors.  The cinematic equivalent of Proust in literature or Dylan in music, Renoir modernized film, and helped give birth to a new sensibility in moviemaking.  Known as the patron saint of the French Nouvelle vague, or New Wave if you will, and one of the biggest influences on Italian Neo-Realism, Renoir made everything after him, from Godard and Truffaut to Visconti and Fellini to Scorsese and Resnais, possible.  Granted, there were other contemporaries of Renoir of equal stature and influence - Welles, Lang, Chaplin, Lubitsch and Hitchcock come immediately to mind - but to say Renoir changed the way modern film was made, or at the very least was one of modern cinema's most influential entities, is not just mere hyperbole, it is ground-in-truth fact - and anyone who says otherwise just ain't copacetic in my book.  But then, I am not here to wag on and on about my love and respect for M. Renoir, but instead, to discuss a new biopic about, not just Renoir the younger, but of his father, Pierre-Auguste, as well.

Taking place during the horrors of World World I, though far removed from the front lines, Gilles Bourdos' Renoir, is actually the story of Andrée Heuschling (later Catherine Hessling) who was the beautiful young model of pere Renoir and the later wife of, and actress for, the younger Renoir, and how she was the bridge between generations of great artistic men.  The reason I went all gaga over our intrepid filmmaker in my opening paragraph is due to the fact that I really do not have all that much to say about the film itself.   Neither a great work of art nor a trainwreck of a movie, Bourdos' film is highlighted merely by the look of the film - it's visual cadence, if you will.  Dressed up to look somewhat like an impressionist painting, the film has an inherent beauty in its palette, even if it does not manage to sweep us away with its narrative or acting.  Sure, Michel Bouquet, Claude Chabrol's go-to guy back in the day, does a fine piece of acting as the great impressionist painter, but the other two leads, Vincent Rottiers and Christa Theret, as future director and flame-haired muse, respectively, are painfully boring in the roles.  Mainly just able to look pretty, which for anyone who has ever seen a picture of Jean Renoir knows, that has never really been the case, these two just swoon about in and out of the aforementioned painterly cinematography of Mark Lee Ping Bin of The Flowers of Shanghai and In the Mood For Love fame (he shared credit with Christopher Doyle on the latter).

Never much of a fan of biopics, especially biopics of favourite directors - and yes, I realize this is not technically a biopic of Jean Renoir, the filmmaker, as the film ends a good five years before the great man ever even steps behind a camera, but it is close enough to count here - the film was destined to not exactly float my so-called boat - and float it, it did not.  Better than Richard Linklater's feeble Me and Orson Welles (though the central performance there, by British actor Christian McKay, is dead on perfect) or the equally feeble, though again, well acted, My Week with Marilyn or last year's doubly feeble Hitchcock, Renoir nonetheless never impresses enough to be called something spectacular.  As I said, not a bad film, but certainly nothing great either, and outside of the visual aspects of the film, this film never catches fire as damn well it should.  And, in the end, a mediocre movie is oft times a worse travesty than making a truly terrible picture.  At least when legendary auteur du affreux Ed Wood made one of his monstrosities, there was love behind them - even if it was a tilted, cock-eyed kind of love - but when one makes a middle-of-the-road thing, much like Bourdos has done here, that love seems to be on a break from the relationship.  If anything, this film has made me want to go and rewatch all of Renoir's oeuvre - not that such a thing would take much of a push - or maybe check out pere Renoir's work at the closest museum.

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