Thursday, 4 July 2013


An early exchange in Gilles Bourdos' Renoir reminds us of the treatment of art in France. Andree Heuschling, muse of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, informs him that she is 'une artiste.' When he enquires what sort of artiste, she replies 'acting, dancing, singing.' The English language has no direct translation for 'artiste,' and so adopted the word for itself; we English-speakers have a tendency to regard art as art and, like Renoir's eldest son Pierre, to regard all other forms of art (like cinema) as entertainment. The French regard it all as art. The sweet peacefulness of Bourdos' film is initially relaxing, but eventually enervating, as for all its visual beauty, this is a film which goes nowhere, and does it slowly. It's also marred by that rather twee sensibility that overcomes many directors when making picturesque period pieces like this, in that folk of days gone by were noble and romantic and earnest, and their pleasures simple. In costumes clearly never worn before, Renoir's maids sing songs while preparing food, not for old Renoir to eat, but to paint. A visit to a jazz joint is like a tastefully crude pastiche of mild debauchery. Lee Ping Bin's cinematography recreates the ravishing tones of Renoir's paintings, but the effect is like pretty nostalgia, one of those films where everything looks nicer cos it's the past. Alexandre Desplat's anachronistic score is fussy and obtrusive, and contributes to making the film feel like L'Abbaye Downton more than a portrait of one of art's greatest talents. Script is by-the-numbers middle-of-the-road biopic. Performances by Michel Bouquet and Christa Theret are vivid and accomplished, but Vincent Rottiers is disastrously wooden as Jean Renoir.