Renoir: An Artful Film About a Wildly Uneven Artist
There would appear to be nothing promising in a film that takes place when Renoir is creating his late nudes on the sunny French Riviera: They are kitsch for repressed pervs. Renoir is one of the most uneven artists in the history of brush to canvas. But Renoir, this new feature film by Gilles Bourdos, is actually interesting. It begins with the death of his wife, and throughout the story, women are far more than pretty subjects for looking at. It’s 1915, the war is ongoing, and Renoir’s injured son Jean—the eventually famous film director—comes home to convalesce. He meets Renoir’s beautiful red-haired nude model, the woman who eventually becomes Jean’s leading actress and first wife. What happens onscreen involves dappled light, yes, and a hallowed painter, but also delicately, and in few words and not too much melodrama, raises the subjects of art’s place in wartime, the early tension between painting and cinema, and the power and variety of women despite their regular flattening into a crew of fleshy nudes. There are boobs in repose in this movie, yes (in both senses of the word), but the director does not really have titillation in mind. Yay for the closing credits, an encouragement to seek out the real-life films that feature said model, Catherine Hessling. She died an unknown; she’s less so now.