“You can’t explain a painting, you have to feel it”, is a line uttered in Gilles Bourdos’s Renoir. Sadly, such a statement isn’t quite as exclusive to cinema, and here is an example of a film that, although certainly alluring and pleasing on the eye, has very little beneath the surface, in desperate need of some patent definition, as this biopic of two of France’s most renowned artistic talents doesn’t quite match up to the innovation and exceptional capabilities that our subjects had in abundance.
What with Renoir and Thérèse Desqueyroux, it seems that French filmmakers are tapping into the current trend of period dramas, that have proved to be so successful across Europe with the likes of Downton Abbey and A Royal Affair. This takes place on the French Riviera across the summer of 1915, at the picturesque abode of ageing Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), who finds a new lease of life when the liberating youngster Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret) starts nude modelling for him. However once the artist’s son Jean Renoir (Vincent Rottiers) returns home from World War One to overcome his injuries, the aspiring filmmaker falls in love with Andrée, as this playful and freewheeling model rejuvenates and inspires both father and son, who are inadvertently vying for her attention.
There is no denying the emphatic visual experience that Bourdos presents his viewer, however when you scratch beneath the surface here is a film lacking in depth, and there needs to be more to art than the mere aesthetic.The Renoir’s would have professed to that, for sure. It’s a shame considering we’re delving into the lives of two such culturally important figures, with the latter of course becoming one of the most renowned directors of all time. However, what has been proved by this title, is that just because this family are made up of fascinating figures, who led fascinating lives, that doesn’t instantly mean there’s a film to be made of it.
Renoir ultimately feels too shallow and inconsequential, with a unfortunate sense of unfulfillment as we reach our finale. We delve into the lives of four people (the other being that of the youngest son Coco, played by Thomas Doret), all riddled with their own distinct personal issues, and yet we don’t actually seem to deal with any of them substantially enough. Perhaps this title remains too ambitious, with a few too many big, considerable characters who all deserve lengthy screen time, and yet Bourdos is attempting to tell all of their correlating stories in one film. That said, it is intriguing how we peer into the lives of the Renoir family from the initial perspective of Andrée – as the viewer, much like she is, is an outsider and we learn about this grandiose lifestyle as she does.
Theret turns in a reasonable performance as our protagonist, though her character isn’t particularly well crafted, and for somebody who is certainly imperfect, we don’t quite explore her flaws in enough depth. Meanwhile, Doret, who was absolutely outstanding in The Kid With a Bike, hasn’t got quite so much to work with in just his sophomore outing, yet he remains a talent to look out for. Another positive besides the acting performances, comes in the striking sequences featuring communal singing, a nod, perhaps, in the direction of Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion.
There is just something unsatisfying about Renoir, as a feature that promises so much and yet delivers so little. Seeing as we’ve started on a quote from the movie, we may as well end on one too, as Jean Renoir says towards the end of the piece, “Cinema isn’t for us French”. No, not when you do it like this it’s not.