It is 1915 – early in the First World War – and at his home at Canes-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, the aging Pierre-Auguste Renoir continues to paint in sublime tranquility, in spite of all the turmoil that is known to exist in the outside world. In his palatial mansion by the sea, his maids keep busy caring for the quiet household, and his youngest son Coco sullenly roams the grounds, lost to his own private demons in spite of the warm, sunny surroundings. He is approached by a young woman, named Andrée, who has come to the estate to pose for the Old Man’s paintings – sent by Renoir’s wife, who has died in the time since she met Andrée in passing, claiming that the girl looked like a “Renoir woman”.
Andrée becomes Renoir’s regular model, posing for him as he perseveres through his crippling arthritis, turning out an endless array of astonishing works which evoke the beauty and innocence of a world that seems to be losing itself to darkness.
These scenes become the rhapsodic, visual core of the film Renoir, a stirring and insightful depiction of love, art, and danger that breathlessly captures the essence of French culture at one of the most critical turning points for creativity in the country’s long and varied artistic history.
Before long, these three are joined at the house by the returning Jean, Renoir’s second-oldest son, who has been injured in the war. Upon meeting Andrée, Jean becomes as enraptured by the girl’s beauty as his father and brother, and quickly begins a love affair with the young woman. As their relationship moves forward, a wide range of conflicting emotions and impulses unfold within the troubled heads of this small, intimate group of people. We wonder if the painter’s art, defined by purity in observation, any longer holds a place in the larger world; we wonder exactly what it is that we inherit from our fathers, and if their voices can ever be heard above the noises of the world we live in.
Thus, Renoir manages to bring to life one of the most delicate moments in world history, when simplistic values were giving way to a more comprehensive and painful understanding of humanity. As the differences between father and son develop on a personal level, the two men are challenged to reassess, or more fully realize, their passions and priorities in regards to their art, as well as their lives; either man comes to represent one side of a conflicted atmosphere – the one a meditative recluse, the other, a socially conscious inhabitant of the larger world.
The film’s style lingers around the blurred luminosity of the elder Renoir’s paintings, as the natural majesty of his family and surroundings manifest themselves in elegantly composed, canvas-like shots and long-held takes, which make the movie-goer feel as though they are an observer in an art gallery. The early modeling scenes observe the dynamic between model and painter with a profound reverie, representing a long-lost call for beauty and pleasantry, the two self-declared virtues of Auguste Renoir’s work.
But as the story progresses, and especially in scenes which involve the youngest son Coco, the future filmmaker Jean’s inky and storm-clouded visions ominously descend upon the film, as he develops the limp of leg and critical mind which would come to define his unique and wise comprehension of life and society in many of his subsequent films.
In the midst of all this is Andrée, a beautiful woman who is as much conflicted by the world around her as is her lover, Jean. Uncertain of where her life is headed, she initially seems to find solace in the peaceful setting of the elder Renoir’s studio. But as she becomes more aware of the surrounding world, she is deeply affected by apparent feelings of despair, and turns to the son Renoir as her creative savior. She can no longer see the value in Auguste’s delicate work, but finds invigoration and truth in the freedom of the moving image. The movies become as much a symbol for the movement of time as anything else in this film, and as the generational inheritors of this new art form, Andrée and Jean represent the shift from stillness into action, a shift that is, according to the tone of the picture, inevitable, but also impossible to resist.
Never before have I seen such an eloquent and inspired celebration of these two distantly associated yet closely related art forms. Here, the painting and the moving image represent two individual, implicative takes on the world by two equally capable artists. Renoir reveals the theoretical split between those two art forms – a split which has moved them apart over the last one hundred years – yet it also reveals the inspirational source for both. It is a beautiful idea that within the same woman two men can find different sources of inspiration; the painter discovers a human essence without knowing anything of the model’s character, while the other can discover, through her character, a poignant demonstration of humanity.
Renoir is a unique creation for how it looks back through the years to a time when the language of the painter was beginning to grow obsolete. It regenerates a moment when innocent impressionability, and peacefulness, was a fading light in a world that was becoming so filled with darkness, and motion. This picture is a fine, distinguished achievement, a worthy homage to two great artists and an astute revelation of the hidden poetry behind the basic facts of each man’s life.
Click below to listen:[audio:http://pawling.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/04-20-Reflection-Silver-Screen-Renior1.mp3|Titles = Reflection Silver Screen-Renior]