In the last years of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s life, his second son Jean came home from World War I to convalesce. It was then that the injured lieutenant met Andree Heuschling, the beautiful model who was posing for his father. Fascinated by the female form, Pierre-Auguste had developed an impressionist mastery in which he created a color-saturated world of sensual sights. But in these final days of his pain-ridden hands and body, wheelchair-bound as much by choice as by pain so he could conserve his energy for painting, Pierre-Auguste was inspired by Andree in a way that brought life not only to himself but to his son Jean as well. It was Andree who placed the desire within Jean to become a creator of films, a calling that brought him the acclaim that painting had brought to his father. It is this moment in these three artists’ lives that director Gilles Bourdos catches on film.
Honoring the impressionist as much by style as by story, Bourdos’ French-language film is itself a work of art. From the convergence of color to the catching of the wind’s effects on the leaves and grass to the posing of Andree, Bourdos appreciates the sensual nature of Pierre-Auguste’s work. Adapting the novel by the great grandson of Pierre-Auguste, Jacques Renoir, Bourdos catches the transitional moment before Jean married Andree and created his first nine silent films with her as his star. Eventually divorcing her, Jean goes on to become an acclaimed director and writer of over forty films.
The ensemble cast focuses primarily on Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste, Christa Theret as Andree and Vincent Rotiers as Jean. Also represented in the film is Coco (Thomas Doret) as Pierre-Auguste’s youngest son and Gabrielle (Romane Bohringer) as the beloved model who Mrs. Renoir forced to leave the family. But the story revolves primarily around Andree and her ambition to be an actress, which drives her to capture Jean to be her filmmaker.
The complexity of the Renoir family is clearly shown as we see the unfaithfulness of Pierre-Auguste. Having already been unfaithful with a former model, he ends his illustrious career focusing his art on the female form. Since his studio is open to his sons, this introduction of his lust to his teenage son Coco as well as his twenty-one year old son Jean is confusing to them and impacts their lives in dramatic and destructive ways. Silent and brooding, Pierre-Auguste provides little guidance to his sons and lives such a self-absorbed life that he claims to only focus on the beauty of life. Purposefully avoiding the world outside his studio, he claims to simply be a cork floating down a stream and takes no responsibility for what occurs. Though his creative artistry is renowned, his avoidance of responsibility leaves his family rudderless in a difficult world. It is this tale his great grandson tells and it is one worth considering as we decide how to express both our appreciation of art and beauty as well as live our lives with integrity and treat our families responsibly.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The decision to paint the female form had a debilitating effect on Pierre-Auguste’s marriage and family for generations. Do you think this is an unusual effect or would this be expected from such an artistic focus? Why do you answer as you do?
2. As Jean fell in love with Andree, she got him to promise to take the wealth of his father to make her a star in films. This proved to be true in Jean’s first nine films in which Andree was the star, as Jean financed them by selling his father’s paintings. Since Jean eventually became an accomplished director, do you believe Andree was a good or bad influence on him? Why?
3. Coco’s fascination with Andree as a young teen was predictable, yet his father did little to protect him. He also allowed Coco to avoid going to school. Why do you think Pierre-Auguste took so little responsibility for his youngest son?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.