It's 1915 as 74-year-old Pierre-Auguste determinedly continues to paint even though the brush must be placed in his arthritic, painful, bandaged hand. His wife has just died and two of his sons, Pierre and Jean, have been wounded in WWI, a war that Pierre-Auguste refuses to reflect in his paintings. As he says, "There are enough disagreeable things in life. I don't need to create more."
Early in the film, the lovely model Andrée Heuschling, called Dédée, walks into the Cagnes-sur-Mer estate. She will inspire Auguste and become the love of 21-year-old Jean's life as he recuperates from a serious leg wound. Dédée wants, above all, to become a movie actress and encourages Jean who will become the legendary director of "Rules of the Game" and "Grand Illusion," among other very famous films.
In press notes, director Bourdos says, "I wanted to create the atmosphere of being behind closed doors, but to shoot outside." And so he keeps the locations almost exclusively within the boundaries of that estate, Collettes. A porcelain painter in his early years, Auguste focuses on the velvety skin of Andrée, an unselfconscious, restless, feisty model, perfect for this work-obsessed artist.
Nature dominates the atelier and the home, a visual feast of colors and sunlight. Complementing the beautiful compositions, sound captures wind, leaves, water and laughing in a delightful combination. Occasionally generational issues and the wartime context interrupt with a sad reminder of the world about which Renoir says, "The pain passes but beauty remains."
As Auguste Renoir, Michel Boquet is superb as is Christa Théret as Andrée and Vincent Rottier as Jean. Though only his hands are seen, the brilliant copyist Guy Ribes perfectly presents the brush strokes of the working painter. "Renoir" is a beautiful, calm, sensuous film in the spirit of Renoir's comment that "you have to feel a painting, you can't explain it." In French with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.