About as exciting as watching paint dry will be the verdict of some viewers on this slow-moving art-house drama about French Impressionist painter Pierre-August Renoir, yet if you can adjust to the film’s languorous pace you will find much to enjoy and admire.
The setting is 1915 and the elderly painter (Michel Bouquet) is widowed, arthritic and wheelchair-bound, but he enjoys a late burst of creativity when feisty, working-class Audrée Heuschling, ‘Dedée’ (Christa Théret), turns up at the door of his estate at Cagnes-sur-Mare and becomes his final model-cum-muse.
The painter isn’t the only Renoir she inspires. His middle son, future filmmaker Jean (Vincent Rottiers), returns wounded from the Western Front to convalesce and promptly falls in love with her.
Director and co-writer Gilles Bourdos leaves it to the closing credits to inform us [Spoiler alert] that Dedée became Jean’s first wife and the star of his first silent-era films. After their separation in 1931 Jean went on to international renown as the director of such classics as The Rules of the Game and La Grande Illusion, while Dedée declined into poverty and obscurity.
There’s tragedy and pathos in Dedée’s future, but Bourdos chooses instead only to display her in full bloom. ‘Flesh! That’s all that matters,’ the painter declares to his son at one point. And here, fortunately, Bourdos really does do his subject justice.
Aided by Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee, the man responsible for the ravishing look of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, Bourdos succeeds in capturing both the sun-dappled landscapes of southern France and a feature of equal importance to Renoir, ‘the velvety texture of a young girl’s skin’.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 107 mins. Director Gilles Bourdos.
Renoir is showing on BBC4 today at 9.30pm.