Jean Renoir is a director one encounters very early in their cinephilia journey, with The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu) most likely a first stop given that many consider the magnificent 1939 film as one of the greatest films of all time. In my case, The Rules of the Game is the only Renoir film to have played in local cinemas multiple times over the last decade. However, Renoir directed many other worthy films that I missed and so a spotlight was due in order to play catch-up. The following eight were chosen with 5 of the films part of a Renoir box-set.
1. La fille de l’eau (1925)
2. Nana (1926)
3. Bondu Saved from Drowning (1932)
4. La Grande Illusion (1937)
5. La Marseillaise (1938)
6. The River (1951)
7. The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment (1959)
8. The Elusive Corporal (1962)
Renoir is a rare director who worked in three transitions of cinema, from silent films to talkies (both black and white) to color. Each new transition comes with its own set of technical challenges but also allows a director to treat cinema as an open canvas to freely explore new ideas and techniques. In this regard, Renoir made excellent use of each cinematic mode to keenly explore behavior of characters in different rungs of French society, from the lower to upper classes, from revolutionaries to politicians, from artists to the wealthy aristocrats. Remarkably, Jean Renoir’s first color film, The River, set in India shows that he was able to carry his sharp observations into a different culture. The River is based on Rumer Godden’s experiences which explain the intimate nature of the material but a huge credit goes to Renoir for properly balancing the Indian cultural observations with a tender touch. The film appears to have been made by someone who has lived and grown up in India for years not by a foreign director such as Renoir.
This spotlight was certainly a true pleasure and reaffirmed why Jean Renoir is one of the greatest directors in Cinema. However, I still missed out on some truly worthy Renoir films going by Sam Juliano’s comments where he rates Une Partie De Campagne and La Chienne as Renoir’s great films to go along with The Rules of the Game and The Grand Illusion. Also, Sam has high praise for La Bete Humaine as well.
Note: the only reason I saw Bondu Saved From Drowning was because of the film’s appearance on the comedy countdown at Wonders in the Dark, where Ed Howard has an excellent essay outlining the film perfectly.