Jean Renoir



It is a curious thing that for a filmmaker who is held in such high regard the reputation of Jean Renoir appears to rest on only a handful of the forty or so films that he made. The films that Renoir directed after WWII, along with much of his early work, tend to be overlooked, whilst most critical attention is focused on the two films for which he is best known, La Grande Illusion and La Règle du jeu.
Bio pic 1
To confine one's attention to Renoir's supposedly 'greatest films' is to do a great disservice to the man and his art, for Jean Renoir was one of the true mavericks of cinema, his work encompassing a phenomenal range of subjects and styles. His penchant for experimentation, his contempt for cliché and his free-spirited nature bring an anarchy, vitality and diversity to his cinema which is virtually unrivalled. Renoir's greatness as a director has less to do with his technical competence as a metteur-en-scène and far more to do with his auteur temperament and his profound love of humanity. Like his father, Auguste, Renoir was consumed with a passion for the transient beauty of life, and his art can be summed up as an attempt to capture this beauty within a frame and preserve it for ever.

Jean Renoir was born in Paris on 15th September 1894. He was the second son of the impressionist French painter Auguste Renoir, who was then 53. His mother was Aline Charigot, one of Auguste's models before he married her in 1890. Jean had two brothers: Pierre, 9 years older, who became an actor, and Claude, 7 years younger, who became a film producer. Pierre Renoir's son Claude, born in 1913, made his name as a cinematographer. Jean Renoir spent the first five years of his life with his family living in one of the pavillons of the Château des Brouillards near the Butte Montmartre. As a little boy, he was one of his father's favourite models, his lustrous long orange hair burning like a wild fire in his father's paintings of him.

Jean attended Collège Saint-Croix at Neuilly - he was a poor student and often played truant. After his family moved to the south of France, he attended the lycée at Nice and obtained his baccalauréat with distinction in 1910. At an early age, he made up his mind that he would not follow in his father's footsteps and become an artist, deciding instead that he would rather be a businessman. As an adolescent, he grew to like horses and enlisted as a non-commissioned cavalry officer in 1913. At the start of WWI, he was a sergeant-in-arms in the first regiment of the dragoons stationed at Vincennes. A kick from a horse left him badly injured and, in early 1915, he was sent to the front, now a sub-lieutenant in the light infantry. Not long afterwards, his femur was fractured by a bullet when he was out on patrol. Gangrene set in and he just escaped having his leg amputated. His wound healed but he was left with a limp for the rest of his life. During his period of convalescence Renoir became addicted to cinema and boasted that he made a habit of watching at least 25 films a week, "all American, of course". At this stage, it had not occurred to him that he might want to become a film director. He returned to the front early in 1916, to work as a photographer on reconnaissance missions in the flying corps. He survived a crash landing with further injuries.

Bio pic 2
On his return to civilian life after the war, Renoir had no clear plans for his future and began working as a ceramicist. In 1920, a few weeks after the death of his father, Renoir married Andrée Heuschling, one of his father's late models. She bore his son Alain in 1921, who became a professor of literature at the University of California in Berkeley. Jean was now busy running a ceramics workshop in the Midi, and his work was highly valued. He could have made this his career if he had chosen, but after four years he decided to give it up and have a go at making films. One of his motivations for doing so was to make his wife a star of the silver screen, to preserve her unique beauty as his father had previously done through his painting.

It was through his brother Pierre, now an established actor of the Parisian stage, that Jean Renoir met Alberto Cavalcanti, soon to become an avant-garde filmmaker, and Albert Dieudonné, an actor who had already appeared in several films (today, he is best known for playing in Napoléon in Abel Gance's famous 1927 biopic). Having directed a couple of minor films, Dieudonné had ambitions of becoming a serious film director and persuaded Renoir to produce his next film Une vie sans joie (1924) in return for allowing Heuschling to take the female lead role. Renoir supplied the script, a fanciful melodrama in which his class consciousness is already apparent, and Dieudonné directed with (or so he insisted) no directorial input from Renoir. For her screen debut, Heuschling was credited under the name by which she is now best known, Catherine Hessling. Renoir also made his first screen appearance in this film, in a minor role. Une vie sans joie was not a commercial success, even when it was re-released in 1927 under a new title, Catherine. This failure quashed Dieudonné's hopes of becoming a filmmaker but did not dampen Renoir's enthusiasm. After seeing Erich von Stroheim's Foolish Wives (1922), he was more determined than ever to become a film director.

Just before watching von Stroheim's film, Renoir made his directing debut with La Fille de l'eau (1924), financing it himself with his own personal fortune. This again featured his wife Catherine Hessling in the central role, but was scripted by Pierre Lestringuez, who collaborated with him on his next three films. A rural fable filmed on an estate belonging to the painter Cézanne, this film employs a strange juxtaposition of realistic cinematography and dreamlike optical effects (multiple exposure, handheld tracking shots, etc.),  the latter of which suggest an over-zealous attempt by Renoir to associate himself with the avant-garde 'impressionists' of the day, Jean Epstein, Abel Gance and Germaine Dulac. It's an eerily poetic film but one that, like many of Renoir's early films, lacks artistic cohesion. One thing to note is Renoir's use of running water as a reassuring metaphor for the continuity of life - this is a motif that recurs in several of his subsequent films.

When they met, Jean Renoir and Pierre Braunberger, then director of publicity for Paramount Pictures France, hit it off immediately. Renoir allowed Braunberger to talk him in to taking over the running of his film production company, Les Films Jean Renoir, and within no time they were embarking on a lavish, big budget period adaptation of Émile Zola's novel Nana. A large chunk of the million franc budget was supplied by Renoir himself from the sale of several paintings he had inherited from his father. Filmed over a five month period in Gaumont Studios in Paris and Grunewald Studios in Berlin, the film again had Hessling in the lead role, looking more sensual than ever as the eponymous 19th century courtesan. Whilst the film received positive reviews in Germany, it proved to be a resounding commercial failure. After the pressures entailed by this mammoth enterprise, Renoir was badly in need of therapy, which he found by knocking out a surreal, erotic fantasy, Sur un air de Charleston (1927), in just three days. Oddly likeable though the film is, it failed to find an audience and Renoir's production company was wound up shortly afterwards.

Jean Renoir pic 3
With Renoir's filmmaking aspirations about to bite the dust it was his brother Pierre who came to his rescue, inviting him to direct a film that was to showcase his second wife Marie-Louise Iribe. Marquitta (1927) was the first film to be produced by Les Artistes Réunis, the company that Pierre Renoir and Iribe had recently founded with the express purpose of making the latter a major star of cinema. Despite the presence of Jean Angelo as the male lead, the film ended up a fairly lacklustre melodrama and Les Artistes Réunis ceased its operations the following year.

The one good thing to come out of Marquitta was that it earned its director an invitation from Jean Tedesco to make an art film for the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, which screened exclusively avant-garde films. Renoir was given a free hand and the film he made for Tedesco - La Petite Marchande d'allumettes (1928), after the children's story by Hans Christian Andersen, is one of his most wildly experimental, an odd conflation of film noir and fairytale that is quite unlike any other film he made. A lawsuit filed against the film's producers by Maurice Rostand, the author of an adaptation of the same story for the Opéra-Comique, resulted in the film prints being impounded. By the time the film was released two years later, sound cinema had come along and relegated silent curios such as this to the scrap heap. Artistically, the film was a small triumph, but it was yet another commercial misfire.

This latest in a string of failures led Renoir to accept two commissions from the Société des Grands Films Historiques. The first was Le Tournoi dans la cité (1929), a historical piece set at the time of Catherine de' Medici which is distinguished more by its bold, almost Dreyer-like composition than its performances. Le Bled (1929) was commissioned, with funding from the French government, to mark the centenary of France's pacification of Algeria. An unashamed celebration of colonialism, the film is an effective fusion of documentary and melodrama but was only a moderate success. Between these two commissions, Renoir clubbed together with a number of friends to make his first feature comedy, Tire-au-flanc, a farce on military life based on a popular stage play of the time. The first of Renoir's films to turn a decent profit, it was also marked the beginning of the director's association with Michel Simon, who later featured in two of his most important films of the 1930s.

Just as sound cinema was beginning to make its triumphant entry. it looked as if Jean Renoir's career as a film director was grinding to a halt. Having failed as an independent auteur, Renoir had been no more successful as a commissioned filmmaker. He was by now finding his feet as an actor, lending his talents in this vein to some films directed by his friend Alberto Cavalcanti - La P'tite Lili (1927) and Le Petit chaperon rouge (1930). It was on the former of these films that Renoir worked with the three women of his life - his then wife Catherine Hessling, his subsequent partner Marguerite Houllé, who edited all of his films from 1931 to 1939 under the name Marguerite Renoir (even though they never married) and Dido Freire, later to become Renoir's second wife.

It was at this point that Renoir was offered a lifeline by his old friend Pierre Braunberger, who had recently formed a new film production company, Les Établissements Braunberger-Richebé, with Roger Richebé. Before embarking on the film that Renoir had intended to make with Michel Simon, La Chienne, he was saddled with the less honourable task of adapting Feydeau's fairly unedifying farce On purge bébé. Whilst it is far from being Renoir's greatest film, the presence of two monstres sacrés of French cinema - Michel Simon and Fernandel - makes up for the silliness of its premise, and it served its function in giving Renoir the opportunity to come to grips with the new but hopelessly restricting phenomenon of synchronised sound recording.

Jean Renoir pic 4
Renoir's second film for Braunberger-Richebé was of an altogether different order, his first film of any real importance. Shot extensively on location and with a strong emphasis on psychological depth, La Chienne (1930) contains within it the origins of film noir, poetic realism and neo-realism. Despite some harsh reviews from some critics who regarded it as vulgar, La Chienne was a commercial success and it is possibly the most influential European film of the first decade of the sound era. It marked the beginning of a dramatic renaissance in French cinema, in which Renoir would play an important role. After his separation from Catherine Hessling, Renoir was obliged to look around for a new leading lady and struck lucky with the 23 year old Janie Marèse. Filming on La Chienne had barely been completed when Marèse was killed in a road accident. Renoir blamed his star's death on Michel Simon, leading to a brief estrangement between the two men.

Renoir's claim to be the 'father of film noir' is stronger in the next film he made, La Nuit du carrefour (1932). Notably, this was cinema's first adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel, and the first screen outing for Jules Maigret, here played here by the director's brother, Pierre Renoir. With its muddled, barely fathomable plot and eerily oppressive atmosphere, showing the influence of German expressionism strongly in some scenes, La Nuit du carrefour is film noir in essence and in substance and doubtless had a large part to play in the development and popularisation of one of cinema's most distinctive aesthetics. It is also one of Renoir's most hauntingly beautiful films.

The films that Jean Renoir made in the first half of the 1930s betray an increasing antipathy towards the bourgeoisie which would later develop, under the influence of his partner Marguerite Houllé, into a genuine concern for the plight of the working class. Adapted from a play by René Fauchois, Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932) is a critique of bourgeois attitudes in a similar vein to the director's later La Règle du jeu, but its mockery and condemnation are dealt with in a far more playful and forgiving manner. Renoir was commissioned to direct the film by two of its actors, Jean Gehret and Michel Simon, the latter happily reprising the role he had played so successfully on stage seven year previously. So favourable was the criticism that Renoir and Simon considered teaming up to make a series of films featuring the loveable rogue Boudu, but Boudu's first screen adventure was less commercially successful than they had hope and the plan was abandoned.

More light-hearted bourgeois mockery is served up in Chotard et Cie (1932). Commissioned by the playwright Roger Ferdinand, it's a piece of frivolity that fails to disguise its low budget but Renoir's penchant for comedy prevents it from ending up as a grim pastiche of a Marcel Pagnol film. This commission was followed by another, from Nouvelle Société des Films, to adapt Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Renoir's attempts to evoke the suffocating mundanity of the heroine's life resulted in a film that is itself stiflingly mundane, although it captures the essence of Flaubert's novel better than perhaps any subsequent screen adaptation. The film was not a success.

Marcel Pagnol was easily persuaded by Renoir to produce his next film, shot entirely on location with a mostly non-professional cast of actors. The style of film that Renoir envisaged tallied well with Pagnol's own conception of cinema, with the exception that Renoir intended going further in developing a style that would bring us nearer to the truth of human experience. In the raw, almost brutal naturalism of Toni (1935) Renoir delivered a template for Italian neo-realism, and his assistant, Luchino Visconti, brought what he had learned on this film to his early work as a director, Ossessione (1943) and La Terra Trema (1948). Lacking the gentle sentimentality and humour of Pagnol's own films, Toni was ill-received by both critics and audiences.

It is in Toni that Renoir's honest engagement with the proletariat first becomes apparent. His involvement with leftwing politics was in sympathy with the political changes that were happening in France in the mid-1930s, culminating with the Front Populaire government, a coalition of leftwing political parties, in 1936. These changes were driven partly by economic factors  - the Great Depression was still taking its toll - but also by external political factors, most notably the rise of Fascism across mainland Europe. In Le Crime de monsieur Lange (1936), Renoir throws his lot in with the Front Populaire and seems to anticipate a proletariat uprising in which capitalism will give way to a communist form of collectivism, with the workers owning the means of production. Renoir's most overtly political film, it is let down by its simplistic handling of some complex themes. Capitalism is personified as a treacherous fiend played with a pantomimic fervour by Jules Berry, the actor who made self-interested, toe-curling venality his art. The film struck a chord at the time but it was not a great success.

Although he was not himself a communist, Renoir was a willing participant on the propaganda documentary La Vie est à nous (1936), which was commissioned by the French Communist Party. Ironically, the filmed ended up being banned by the Front Populaire government in reaction to a wave of strikes organised by the Communist Party. Whilst the film now appears naive in the extreme, resorting to specious didacticism instead of compassionate reasoning to sell the perceived virtues of communism, it provides an interesting insight of the time in which it was made. Renoir later distanced himself from the film.

Partie de campagne (1936), based on the short story by Guy de Maupassant, was a film that, owing to continuing bouts of torrential rain, Renoir was unable to complete. A bittersweet romance filmed mostly on location on the banks of the Loing and Essonne just outside Paris, the film evokes the impressionistic paintings of the director's father and looks like a departure from his politically involved films of this era. The anti-bourgeois sentiment is there if you care to look for it, most visibly in the caricatured shopkeeper Monsieur Dufour. After the war, its producer Pierre Braunberger was keen to exploit the film commercially, but with Renoir having lost interest in it the job of piecing it together was undertaken by his former editor, Marguerite Houllé. Despite its status as an unfinished work, Partie de campagne is a coherent and satisfying piece of film art, one of Renoir's most beguiling works.

For his adaptation of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, Renoir returns to the neo-realist style of Toni, this time drenching it with the naive optimism that was endemic among supporters of the Front Populaire at the time. Les Bas-fonds (1936) is a film that lacks artistic coherence and is marred by an unconvincing merging of French and Russian culture, but compelling performances from Jean Gabin (in the first of four films by Renoir) and Louis Jouvet amply redeem it. Catching the Zeitgeist, the film was a critical and commercial success, earning the first Prix Louis-Delluc in 1937. It also resulted in Renoir being made a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

In La Grande Illusion (1937), Renoir deals most effectively with a theme that runs through most of the films he made in the latter half of the 1930s, namely an appeal for unity across all creeds and classes at a time of national crisis. Today, it is regarded as an anti-war film, although this is likely to have been secondary to Renoir's original intention, the 'illusion' in the film's title most likely alluding to the phoney barriers that separate one man from another. This ties up neatly with Renoir's next film, La Marseillaise (1938), in which the ideals of the French Revolution become a rallying cry for unity across France in the face of the escalating threat on its borders. Whereas La Grande illusion struck a chord and was a hit in just about every country where it was released (including, paradoxically, Nazi Germany), La Marseillaise was a spectacular failure.

The optimism of the Front Populaire era had completely evaporated by the time Renoir came to direct La Bête humaine (1938), so it is little wonder that this is his bleakest film. The mood of the film - fatalistic, despairing, unrelentingly grim - reflects how most people in France felt as a pall of pessimism descended on the country in the months preceding the outbreak of the Second World War. The memorable opening sequence, a train surging forwards, was an apt metaphor for a country being propelled towards the abyss by unstoppable forces in the late 1930s. As in the poetic realist films of Marcel Carné and Julien Duvivier, La Bête humaine is steeped in gloom and presages disaster in almost every frame.

Bio pic 5
The success of La Bête humaine allowed Jean Renoir the chance to finally satisfy his long-held hankering after producing his own films. La Règle du jeu (1939) was the first film to be made by the cooperative which he had set up with his brother Claude Renoir, André Zwoboda, Camille François and Olivier Billioux. What started out as an adaptation of Alfred de Musset's 1833 play Les Caprices de Marianne ended up as a scathing modern critique of France's class system, in which the hypocrisy underpinning a flawed social structure is seen to wreak havoc on those who dare to defy 'the rules of the game'. It ought to be the bleakest of Renoir's films but comedy intrudes so often and so unexpectedly that the film's abject cynicism is attenuated to the point that it is scarcely noticed on a first viewing. Technically and artistically, La Règle du jeu is Renoir's most perfect film, having a coherence and unity that is pretty well lacking in every other film he made. Alas, this is not something that was apparent to audiences that saw the film when it was first released in July 1939. An initial flop, Renoir was obliged to re-edit the film to reduce its runtime by half an hour, to no avail. The critics hated the film and the public shunned it. It wasn't until the late 1950s that it resurfaced and acquired the reputation it now holds, as one of the greatest of all films.

After the start of WWII, Renoir found himself in Italy to direct Michel Simon in La Tosca, based on the play by Victorien Sardou. Renoir had shot only a few scenes before he took the advice of the French Embassy and fled the country in May 1940. The film was completed by Carl Koch, with assistance from Luchino Visconto. Having obtained a visa to work in the United States, Renoir left France in October 1940, in the company of his new partner Dido Freire. After signing a contract with 20th Century Fox, he began his career in Hollywood by directing Anne Baxter and Walter Brennan in Swamp Water (1941), a film noir that looks like a neo-realist's interpretation of a classic western. Influenced by Jean Ford and trying perhaps a little too hard to please his American audience, Renoir seems reluctant to endow the film with his personal tropes, so it is a fairly anonymous piece, like a painting to which its artist is unable to add his signature. If the film has a voice at all, it is that of its screenwriter, Dudley Nichols. The film was only a moderate success, and Fox and Renoir parted company on amicable terms.

After their fairly successful first collaboration, Renoir and Nichols joined up to form their own production company, backed by RKO, for their next film, This Land Is Mine (1943). From the outset, this was conceived as a propaganda piece to alert the population of the United States to the threat of Fascism and thereby galvanise support for the war in Europe. Despite its obvious budgetary limitations and a melodramatic script that strains credibility in a few scenes, the film argues its case well and closes with a highly moving denouement, helped by a strong performance from Charles Laughton. The American government then commissioned Renoir to make another propaganda film, this time a short entitled Salute to France.

Of the six films that Jean Renoir made during his stay in Hollywood, the one that is closest in essence to American cinema is The Southerner (1945), a realist account of a family's struggle to survive against the odds that makes John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) look positively upbeat. It was for this film that Renoir received his one and only Oscar nomination, and it won the Best Film award at the Venice Film Festival in 1946. By now Renoir had acquired his American citizenship and had come to regard the 'Land of the Free' as his own.

Despite being at home in America, Renoir had difficulty adapting to the American way of making films. He had already walked away from one film, The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943), for which he received no on-screen credit even though he shot two thirds of the film (according to its lead actress Deanna Durbin) and his last Hollywood film, The Woman on the Beach (1947), a film noir starring Robert Ryan and Joan Bennett, would be ruined in the edit and ended up a flop. The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) also struggled to turn a profit on its first release and seems an unlikely sell for an American audience, being a belated return to the anti-bourgeois satire of Renoir's first French period, combining elements of both Boudu and La Règle du jeu. Although set in the early 1900s, the film makes a sly but effective critique of American society of the mid-1940s, the class hierarchy being every bit as rigid and preposterous as that of 1930s France.

The experience of making The Woman on the Beach was so painful that once the film was completed Renoir decided his Hollywood career was over. Rumer Godden's novel The River reawakened his interest in filmmaking and four years after his last American film was in the can Renoir was on his way to India, to direct his first colour film. In fact it was the first Technicolor film to have been made in India and it would have a lasting influence on Indian cinema, inspiring, notably, Satyajit Ray. Beautifully photographed by the director's nephew Claude Renoir, The River is the most cinematic of Renoir's films, a film that sizzles with a spiritual fervour in its panoramic shots of a stunning location. The film was a worldwide success and received the first International Prize at 1951 Venice Film Festival.

Whether he was a citizen of the world or a rootless artist in search of inspiration, Renoir then ended up in Rome, directing neo-realist diva Anna Magnani in Le Carrosse d'or (1953), his first European film in 13 years. A Franco-Italian production, three slightly different versions of the film were made, with Italian, French and English language soundtracks. Switching between theatre and real life, the film blurs the distinction between the two and takes on an intermediate form in which art and life become indistinguishable - a quality that impinges, more subtly, in each of Renoir's subsequent films and is the main theme of Orvet, the stage play he wrote immediately before French Cancan. Expectations had been raised impossibly high after the director's previous film, and so Le Carrosse d'or met with a distinctly lukewarm reception.

The colour and vitality of Paris in the Belle Époque are evoked with a blazing intensity in Renoir's next film, French Cancan, a shameless nostalgia piece that revels in its garish whimsy. Originally intended for Yves Allégret, it was the first film that Renoir made in France since La Règle du jeu and its success augured well for the second phase of his career in his country of origin. Away from the surface gloss and energetic interludes (the highpoint of which being the titular set-piece performed by high-kicking dancers at the Moulin Rouge) the film offers a profound meditation on the relationship between art and life, concluding that art is not just a part of life but it's logical and necessary fulfilment.

Jean Renoir pic 6
Renoir's longstanding ambition to make a film with Ingrid Bergman was finally realised with Elena et les Hommes (1956), another period drama set in Belle Époque Paris. Similarities with Renoir's earlier La Règle du jeu abound, but here the critique is blunter, the characters more like puppets searching for an identity than real people. Renoir's commitment to make an English language version of the film in parallel with the French version resulted in unnecessary production difficulties which doubtless contributed to the film's failure at the box office.

It is ironic that just as he was beginning to be regarded as one of the most important film directors of the 20th century, thanks in part to a reappraisal of his work by the staff of the Cahiers du cinéma, Jean Renoir was starting to find it virtually impossible to persuade anyone to produce the films he wanted to make. He had resisted several invitations from French television to direct plays for the small screen but in 1959 he made what he believed would be a revolutionary proposal - to make a film using the techniques of television which could be successfully screened in cinemas. Since the cost of a television production was substantially less than that of a comparable conventional film, Renoir envisaged a means by which films could be made far more cheaply, by shooting them in a television studio using the multi-camera system of recording.

Le Testament du docteur Cordelier (1959) was filmed in the Paris studios of Radio-Télévision Française with a crew consisting of television and film technicians. As was the practice at the time, the actors spent several days rehearsing the film before it was shot in the studio, with typically five cameras recording simultaneously. The approach achieved a continuity of action that was rare in cinema, but the downside was that imperfections in the acting and recording were more visible on the screen. It was a failed experiment. Critics of the film when it premiered at the 1959 Venice Film Festival were not kind to it, and the French film industry, fearful of the competition posed by television, threatened a massive boycott if it was ever released. It wasn't until May 1961 that the public were allowed to see the film in cinemas, as Renoir intended.

The failure of Le Testament du docteur Cordelier notwithstanding, the idea of filming with multiple cameras still appealed to Renoir and he employed this technique on his next film, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1959). As its title implies (a reference to the famous painting by Manet), the film is Renoir's homage to the impressionistic style of his father, and, filmed in warm colours, mostly in richly verdant exteriors, it has all the vibrancy and vitality of a painting by Auguste Renoir. A cautionary tale on where scientific endeavour may be leading humanity, away from a sun-dappled Eden towards some spiritually barren, utilitarian idea of Utopia, the film probably has a much greater resonance today than it did when it was made.

Bio pic 7
For his final film for the cinema, Le Caporal épinglé (1962), Renoir takes several backward steps, ditching multi-camera recording and going back to black and white. The film looks like an updated comic remake of La Grande illusion, the three main characters of that earlier film having their modern equivalent. Good-natured entertain though it is, there's not much of the great cineaste to be found in this cinematic swansong. It would be almost a decade before Renoir bowed out for good with his final film, made for French television: Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir (1971). A likeable collection of three short films linked by a musical number (supplied by a ravishing Jeanne Moreau), this feels like a compendium of Renoir's 'best bits', including a social critique disguised as a fairytale, a bizarre black comedy and a rural fable with a cogent moral.

With his filmmaking career all but over by the early 1960s, Renoir redirected his artistic energies to writing. In addition to his biography of his father, Renoir, mon père (1962) and his autobiography, Ma vie et mes films (1974), he also published a number of novels and stage plays. In 1975, he received an honorary Oscar for his body of work and he became a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1977. He died in Beverly Hills, California, USA on 12th February 1979 and was buried near to his father at Essoyes, in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. Today, although much of his work is largely forgotten, Renoir occupies a prominent position in the pantheon of great filmmakers. His humanity, artistry and drive for experimentation are apparent throughout his oeuvre. Not only was he a major influence on the French New Wave, he remains an inspiration for the generations of filmmakers that came afterwards, and not just in France. Renoir's cinema has a universal and timeless appeal. Perhaps Chaplin was right when he said: "The greatest film director in the world?  In my opinion, he's a Frenchman. He's called Jean Renoir.
The above article was written for and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


Key: a = actor; d = director; w = writer


Jean Renoir was nominated for 1 Academy Award for: The Southerner (1946, Best Director). He was also given an honorary award in 1975.

He also won 3 Venice Film Festival awards for: La Grande Illusion (1937, Best Overall Artistic Contribution); The Southerner (1946, Best Feature Film); and The River (1951, International Award).


“Is it possible to succeed without any act of betrayal?”

“A director makes only one movie in his life. Then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again.”

“Wilshire Boulevard... It has no smell to it.”

Related articles

2015 film releases

Read more about the French films to be released in 2015...

The Silent Era

Before the advent of sound France was a world leader in cinema. Find out more about this overlooked era.

The Golden Age

Discover the best French films of the 1930s, a decade of cinematic delights...

The Occupation Era

Even in the dark days of the Occupation, French cinema continued to impress with its artistry and diversity.

The New Wave

A wave of fresh talent in the late 1950s, early 1960s brought about a dramatic renaissance in French cinema, placing the auteur at the core of France's 7th art.