"The Boss" in this case is not Bruce Springsteen. It's the household nickname for the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, one of the fathers of the Impressionist Movement. Renoir the film, directed by Gilles Bourdos which opens nationwide on March 29, brings us to his final period set in the south of France amidst World War I. His throbbing aged hands figure prominently and mirror the ruthlessly enduring continental battle.
Renoir is full of light, color and sensuality. With transitions of sound and scenes the movie portrays an overall organic passage of power from elder to younger. The Oedipal struggle is less rocky than one might suspect among self-involved personalities within an influential accomplished family. It's this generational transfer fully integrated with the cinematography that captures the attention of Lewis Perkins and me as we discuss this film.
Arriving at the manor of the Renoir estate, the female protagonist is Auguste's last artistic model. Catherine Hessling pushes aside the gate and saunters towards the family home. Hessling encounters the youngest son Claude, a somewhat cast off, almost feral teen who tracks her like a curious animal of prey.
The beauty of the precocious socially adept, yet vulnerable model envelopes all characters in the film. She mysteriously claims to be sent by The Boss's now deceased wife, Aline Victorine Charigot, who is not to be upstaged even by death as she visits "The Boss" in his tormented dreams of war's injury to their two older sons, Jean and Pierre.
Hessling walks through the house passing servants, once attractive models themselves, who now dutifully attend the severely arthritic and nearly blind aging patriarch. As she brushes through the kitchen doorway, the audience is swept up with the magical air of dancing luminosity and the buoyant sounds of grasses, leaves and branches. As a cinematographic masterpiece, this is one of several splendid visual and mood transitions which only seeing the movie can convey.
Catherine becomes Jean Renoir's (film director) lover, and later his first wife and first leading lady. The anguish of war's irrationality invades the domestic ambiance. Jean's patriotic and self-imposed obligation to return to battle, even after injury and the objections of father and sweetheart provides tension.
In a pivotal scene, Jean and "The Boss" arrive at a détente. Aline's cousin Gabrielle Renard, nurse to the children and lover to the father, whom the late wife had banished from the household returns. So while "The Boss" is a bit cowed and grumpy about Jean taking up with Hessling, he's still disturbed by Jean's being filled with the fraternity of war.
Nothing will dissuade the young lovers and there is no longer biologic need for father and son to compete for dominance over a muse. Each is satisfied with the arrangement. Not to be tortured by what he can not have, senior Renoir to Jean gives and takes his own sage advice, "Let yourself be carried through life like a cork on water."
Light is the unifying principle of the movie. Casting and the portrayal of the time in the lives of the characters are fantastic and exemplary of the French view of optimism, even in pain. The fluctuating daylight and visual depiction of motion and stillness creates a mirror of the genius of the father as painter, the eldest son as actor, the favorite middle son the filmmaker, the youngest a budding inventor of a rolling canvas so father can paint with greater ease, and the women who hold their attention.
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