‘Renoir’ a beautiful, if empty, film
By AL ALEXANDER - More Content Now
Movies are a visual medium and director Gilles Bourdos isn’t about to let you forget it in his scrumptiously beautiful “Renoir,” a three-faceted biopic in which painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir passes the torch to his middle son, filmmaker-to-be Jean Renoir, through the ample attributes of model/actress Andree Heushling.
Set in the summer of 1915 on the picturesque Renoir estate in Cagnes-sur-Mer, “Renoir” offers a wide canvas of romance, legacies and war painted in brush strokes too broad to fully fill in the blanks, as father and son compete for the affections of a voluptuous, fiery-haired goddess destined to become a muse to both. But what the film lacks in narrative prowess is offset by the gorgeous images Bourdos summons in making every frame resemble a Renoir through an intoxicating mix of color and light. As Jean (Vincent Rottiers) tells Andree (a stunning Christa Theret) during a particularly suggestive conversation, a Renoir painting always “looks good enough to eat,” and so it is with the film, which seldom fails to satiate the eye.
The heart, however, is an entirely different matter. In that department, “Renoir” emerges somewhat empty, as Bourdos struggles to tap into the passion the two men derived from Andree, who had the distinction of being the elder Renoir’s last spark of inspiration and his son’s first. But that lust is lost in a stultifying lack of chemistry between Theret and her male counterparts.
Rottiers is particularly drab, and much too handsome to play Jean, who in real life was average looking at best. The bigger disappointment is the lack of sparks between Theret and Michel Bouquet as Auguste, an artist cruelly ravaged by arthritis, but who derived newfound strength through Andree’s feistiness and physical grandeur. You’d never know it, though, judging by how flat their scenes play. The only thing that saves them is the chance to ogle the oft-nude Theret’s dangerous curves.
Yet “Renoir” is never boring, especially if you are a fan of either Auguste or Jean, who’d go on to earn acclaim for such movie masterpieces as “The Rules of the Game,” “The River” and his crowning achievement, “Grand Illusion.” To be made privy to how one artist makes his last hurrah and the other sows the seeds for his life’s work is intently fascinating.
Despite the absence of a sensuous vibe between her and her male co-stars, Theret is excellent at portraying Andree as both a mythological figure and a proto-feminist, comfortable in her body and confident in her desires to get what she wants. Jean Renoir once wrote that if not for Andree, who would go on to star in many of his early movies under the name of Catherine Hessling, he never would have entered the filmmaking profession.
It’s equally intriguing to observe how the elder Renoir refused to let his rapidly failing health prevent him from doing what he loved most, vowing that when his arthritic hands finally gave out, he would learn to paint with another certain part of his anatomy. It brings a whole new meaning to the term art appreciation. You’ll never look at a Renoir work the same way again, whether it’s on a canvas or, in the case of Jean, celluloid. And for that, we can thank Andree Heushling, a beauty who inspired beauty in a most beautiful way.
• “Renior” is rated R for sequences of art-related nudity and brief language. The cast includes Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret and Vincent Rottiers, and was co-written and directed by Gilles Bourdos. The film is in French with English subtitles. Grade: B-.