When you say "Renoir," two people who will come to mind: Pierre-Auguste, the great French Impressionist painter, and his son, Jean, the great filmmaker.
Renoir considers both men, set during World War I, when the paterfamilias (Michel Bouquet) is a renowned but aged artist with failing flesh (his hands require considerable attention after a day's labor of painting) and Jean (Vincent Rottiers) is a 21-year-old soldier returning home from the front lines to convalesce from a serious leg wound. The primary tension in the film is between the notions of the father and son on what the ideal subject of art should be. Pierre-Auguste believes his paintings should be pleasant. "Poverty, despair, death, they're not my concern." What interests him, instead, is skin.
Not surprisingly, those subjects are exactly what will prove to fascinate Jean in his works, including Grand Illusion, The Rules of the Game, The Lower Depths, and The Diary of a Chambermaid.
Renoir also takes in the extended family: the youngest son, Coco (Thomas Doret), a sullen boy who mourns his recently deceased mother, and Andrée (Christa Theret), a model who acts as a muse for Pierre-Auguste and Jean. Also significant is an entourage of women servants who cook, clean, cart the infirm artist to and fro, tend to the studio, mix paint, and pose for paintings.
A brief but striking scene takes place in the kitchen as the help sing while they work over plates of vegetables and fish, a dead rabbit watching over the reverie. Another moment catches the eye of the artist as a gust of wind blows away a picnic setting and the women try to rescue it. "Shit! Isn't that beautiful?" Pierre-Auguste says in wonderment. Director Gilles Bourdos captures it just so, a painting in motion; other times, his camera intentionally loses focus, highlighting fuzzy color over sure line, worthy of the Impressionists.
Opens Friday, May 31st