Directed by Gilles Bourdos, the film Renoir is set in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, France, where famed French impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent the summer of 1915. He’s already an old man, wheelchair bound, and suffering greatly from rheumatoid arthritis. His home and studio (atelier) is set there in the south of France, and Renoir is supported by a staff of women who take care of him and his young teenage son. Renoir’s wife had passed away recently.
We will come to learn that Renoir’s staff is composed of women who were hired on originally as models and stayed on to become maids, or hired as maids and then became models. Renoir had two older sons both of whom were currently engaged as participants in World War I which raged on further to the north in France.
Enter a beautiful young woman, Andrée (called Dedee) and played by the stunning Christa Theret.She’s smart, she’s calculating, she’s aggressive and Renoir is impressed. She not only becomes his model, but she also becomes his muse or inspiration.
That’s the end of Act I.
Soon after, Renoir’s middle son, Jean, arrives home from the war. He’s suffered a severe leg wound and his home stay is considered a convalescence. It’s no surprise that he too notices his father’s new model, as she is naked more often than not, and he appreciates the alluring Andrée. Soon enough he is under her spell too.
The older Renoir notices as does the staff. When one of the staff comes into the kitchen and tells Andrée that Renoir wants her, her response is, [Who wants me] The father or the son?
By the way, did I mention that the older Renoir needs to have his paint brushes tied to his hands, that he needs an assistant to squeeze the paints out of the tubes and onto the palette, and that he refuses to use black paint in his works. There’s an irony to this as Jean, who is the one to ask the painter about that, will evolve and in his later years and go on to become an internationally known film director. Yes, he is that very same Jean Renoir who has made two of the greatest black and white films ever – Le Grande Illusion and The Rules of the Game.
Now we are in the south of France and the sunlight is brilliant as are the outdoor settings in glades, by a stream, in the woods, or in a variety of outdoor locations many of which include a nude Andrée posing for Renoir. Yes the film is glorious to look at.
What it isn’t is lively. The film is slowly paced and while the elder Renoir is played beautifully by one of France’s most treasured actors, Michel Bouquet, who has created an excellent portrayal, one cannot say the same for Vincent Rottiers who played Jean. Every one of his scenes were near lifeless, and lacked passion. Even the glorious Andrée couldn’t coax any excitement out the actor even though the character was smitten.
Beyond that, the story line didn’t deliver either. While the intention was not supposed to be a sexual triangle – old man Renoir looked at Andrée and then considered his declining health and said – too early, too late. So with element of sexual tension basically removed, the story line came down to Jean wanting to rejoin his countrymen at the frontline of the war, which meant leaving Andrée. But this didn’t really have enough bite to it.
What the film delivered spectacularly was the visuals. It was simply a beautiful film to watch. But only Andrée had spirit and force. Old man Renoir was passionate about his work – but that was mostly a matter of his internal drive. He said he would paint “until he collapsed, ..and if my hands can no longer do what they used to, then I’ll paint with my dick.”
I’ve seen Renoir’s paintings in both New York and Paris. But I prefer Monet and Matisse. Basically I’m saying that this impressionist’s art are not paintings that I’d go out of my way to visit again. Similarly, Bourdos and company have given us a film that you can enjoy once. This isn’t a film to watch a second time. And that’s due to the deficiencies in the script. What I’ll call a missed opportunity. Three point five is the rating. Check out the trailer: