Since the titular character in “Renoir” is Pierre-Auguste, one of the world’s great Impressionist artists, it seems a propos to say that sitting through this film is akin to watching paint dry. Gorgeously shot but dull and soulless on almost every level, director Gilles Bourdos’ work has none of the sensuality and style of Renoir’s paintings. And I say this as someone who fondly remembers a childhood home that featured a huge print of Renoir’s beautiful ‘Madame Charpentier and Her Children’ in the living room. Mental images of that painting are what kept me awake through this stupefyingly dull film.
Set in 1915, when an aging Renoir (Michel Bouquet) is looking for a muse, the picture tells how young artist manqué Andrée (Christa Théret) comes into his life, and becomes his life model. Although he’s in declining health, it’s obvious that the free-spirited woman has rejuvenated Renoir, as he paints away with renewed vigor.
Then who should come home from the war but Jean (Vincent Rottiers), Renoir’s son (and the future world class filmmaker of “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game”), who is recuperating from a wound. Jean soon finds himself drawn to Andrée, and they quickly become lovers. But even though this really happened – the pair married, and Andrée acted in several of Renoir’s silent films – it still comes off as some sort of art world cliché. You know, hot-blooded young man sees nude model, falls for her. This air of unreality may be a fault of the soporific direction, the absence of charisma in the two young actors, their lack of chemistry, or a combination of all three. Either way, I started groaning audibly at this point in the film.
But that’s not the only problem “Renoir” has. I gather the artist had a nice big beard late in life, but the one given Michel Bouquet in this film is so large, it obscures most of his face, which means you can’t see his lips move. This is, to say the least, disconcerting, and tends to rob the character of any emotion, no matter what he’s saying. Then again, he’s often saying things that sound borderline ridiculous, like “Flesh! That’s all that matters,” or his comment about “the velvety texture of a young girl’s skin.” Honestly? Was the real Renoir a dirty old man?
“Renoir” the movie has one thing going for it: the gorgeous, shimmering photography of Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee, which makes the French Riviera look like paradise. But that’s not enough to save this exercise in somnolent filmmaking. Renoir is a disservice to a great painter.