With its incessant golden-glow lighting scheme, picnic-worthy countryside settings and soft-soap epiphanies, Gilles Bourdos’s RENOIR feeds directly into the view of Impressionism as art for the comfy bourgeoisie. A (hopefully) discredited idea that ignores the movement’s original revolutionary impulse, blinded by its eventual triumphant popularity.* Precisely the wrong way to go about telling the story of aging master painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir; his WWI wounded son, future film director Jean; and Andrée Heuschling, the impossibly difficult girl they possessed as muse, respectively on canvas and in bed. There’s a natural curiosity in just seeing the Renoir household with its coven of fleshly female servants tending to an old, crippled man who can not stop painting. But every oh-so-authentic fact-based incident goes ‘splat,’ like the faux-Erik Satie soundtrack from Alexandre Desplat that gilds this hothouse lily.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: At one point, Jean projects a clip from Griffith’s INTOLERANCE/’16 (or possibly the revamped reduction, THE MOTHER AND THE LAW) even though it had yet to be shot, let alone released internationally. So, you might watch that. But for a look at what a strange, difficult, unknowable and largely unphotographable person the real Andrée Heuschling (aka Catherine Hessling) must have been, try Renoir’s fascinating silent film of Zola’s NANA/’26. A truly terrible actress, yet with a mesmerizing self-willed screen presence about her. The film is something of an astonishment.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: *Speaking of Zola . . . how lucky to have his L’OEUVRE/THE MASTERPIECE as a vivid reminder of early impressionist struggles as Paul Cézanne, Zola’s old friend who never forgave the great novelist for using him as model, starts the modernist movement.