Toni is a prime example Renoir’s trademark poetic realism—and it foreshadows both Italian neo-realism (the subjects being Italian doesn’t hurt when thinking about this comparison) movement and the Hollywood noir antihero’s that would pervade so many quality films from the 1940’s-1970’s
It starts with a prologue about Babel and the immigration story and how it is a true story (the prologue is clearly marked and set apart from the rest of the film)
Renoir’s elegant fluid camera. Walking with the immigrants as they get off the train and listen to diegetic guitar music to open the film (which will make for a formally sound and tragic bookend)
Complimenting a film’s authenticity is hard as those rules and expectations change over time—the characters are speaking French, but I believe look passably Italian. This is realism- they’re working the quarry, the film is largely plotless, there are fights galore (this has a dark side to it like La Chienne—very raunchy stuff for 1935)
Like The Rules of the Game there is unrequited love, flirting, jealousy as major themes
A stunning shot at 31 minutes as we are again tracking along with the camera. We go from the guitar player to a row of people listening, to Toni in bed with Marie— there is another really impressive tracking shot as Renoir’s gliding camera moves along the line of the wedding party with people singing at minute 33.
A standout mise-en-scene photographic moment with Marie standing on a boat with reflection in the water
Here again we get the guitar player (5 times in total I believe) and it’s clearly a part of Renoir’s formal structure- brilliant
Remarkable stylistic standout sequence is the murder scene- dueling close-ups with the camera moving it—it seems impossible this scene and film didn’t influence Demme’s Something Wild—directly after this shot we get the camera floating into the house after the gun shot with Toni
Another shot at 77 minutes as Renoir’s camera slips back to reveal a cop watching Toni – and yet another stunner withsomeone yelling at Toni in the foreground while Toni is way off in the background running
A superior narrative- totally engaging– this is like a 1940’s Bogey, 1960’s Paul Newman doomed antihero– or 1970’s Altman film- or Coen brother film with fate as the grim reaper. Bad luck
The ending is perfect- great film form—and it packs a wallop as we end up at the train station with more immigrants getting off the train singing just like the beginning. Stirring.