Saturday 24 March 2018

Renoir's story is beautiful but emotionless

Beauty: Artist Renoir's model turns heads
Beauty: Artist Renoir's model turns heads

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Renoir (No Cert, IFI, 111 minutes) 3 STARS

Director: Gilles Bourdos Stars: Michel Bouquet, Vincent Rottiers, Christa Theret, Romane Bohringer

In 1915, while carnage raged on the fields of Flanders, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was fighting his own battle – against infirmity, rheumatoid arthritis and the dying of the light.

On an idyllic farm near Cagnes-sur-Mer, the 74-year-old artist struggled out to his studio daily, assisted by a small army of devoted females, and continued to stubbornly paint. In the summer of that year, his son Jean returned from the front to recover from an injury, and fell hopelessly in love with his father's latest model. Gilles Bourdos' handsome film describes what happened next.

Jean Renoir (Vincent Rottiers) is Pierre-Auguste's (Michel Bouquet) second son, and has always struggled to form a meaningful bond with the affable but emotionally unreachable painter. His latest muse, Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret) is a volatile but devastatingly handsome young actress with whom the old man himself seems smitten. So when Jean's interest in her becomes clear, tensions rise between father and son.

Bourdos' film is lovingly shot and lit, and the director creates tableau after tableau that cleverly evoke Renoir's paintings.

If only as much time had been devoted to character, script and storyline. No doubt there was an interesting film to be made about the complex relationship between Pierre-Auguste and Jean, but in Renoir neither character quite attains three dimensions. In fact, the film feels a bit like a picture postcard – very pleasant to look at, but curiously emotionless.

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