Renoir. Renoir dominated the 1930’s making 7 of the top 100 of the decade and a whopping 5 of the top 18 films. 14 total archiveable films is very respectable (I need to rewatch half of them as it’s been a decade or more) and we have 2 films in the top 100 (Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game). I’ll get to it more below in style but he’s one of the fathers of camera movement—taking up the mantle or baton toss if you will almost directly from Murnau who passed away in 1931—the same year of Renoir’s first archiveable film.
Best film: The Rules of the Game. The greatest example of Renoir’s stylistic eloquence- an ensemble film that is married to Renoir’s roving camera to capture it all.
total archiveable films: 14
top 100 films: 2 (The Rules of the Game, Grand Illusion)
top 500 films: 5 (The Rules of the Game, Grand Illusion, The Crime of Monsieur Lange, La Bete Humaine, La Chienne)
top 100 films of the decade: 8 (The Rules of the Game, Grand Illusion, The Crime of Monsieur Lange, La Bete Humaine, La Chienne, A Day in the Country, Boudu Saved from Drowning, The River)
most overrated: A Day in the Country and The River are in the top 200 on TSPDT and I think they’re overrated. After one viewing I also think both French Cancan and The Golden Coach are slightly overrated as well from Renoir’s 50’s period. But there’s work to be done here. This is probably why I have Renoir as my #14 when TSPDT has him as the #7 director of all-time.
most underrated : La Bete Humaine. TSPDT has it as his 9th best film. I have it as Renoir’s 4th. Their ranking is #829 and I’m at #240.
gem I want to spotlight: La Chienne. This is a harsh and ugly serious film for a Renoir film—throughoughly engaging narrative. Great tracking show of men in a row drinking. Renoir’s first sound film. There is some really nice work with some of what would come to be known as the Renoir trademarks- he does a great job doing a shot, tracking the action, reframing, and doing it again. It’s simple but revolutionary in 1931, elegant and powerful. Really shows off Michel Simon’s range when you compare his weak character here and Boudu the following year. What looks like a hand-held camera working and tracking during the waltz scene- very well done. Framing in the window with the flower bed in the bottom of the mise-en-scene- goes back to it later and then for the 3rd time during the epic murder scene. It would be remade by Fritz Lang in 1945 and that film is superb as well.
stylistic innovations/traits: Camera movement or Bordwell’s cinematography. I’m stealing from Ebert here- he says “the camera doesn’t point or intrude—it glides”. Tracking shots that frame, move and then reframe for the next shot- absolutely stunning work. Elegant tracking shots in many films capturing the movements, lives, and conversations of the ensemble. A brilliant shots framed in window and then Renoir pulls back to resume action- this is certainly a Renoir stylistic trademark. Thematically and from a narrative standpoint Renoir captures a poetic realism whether it be during war, a day in the country, or a chateau. The term used often in Renoir articles/books is humanism but I like the poetic realism term more because I think it’s more stylistically inclined (where I feel like “humanism” has a narrative slant). And visually he, once again from the opening he largely, took up the tracking shot/moving camera lineage from Murnau (Renoir’s first archiveable movie came out the same year as Murnau’s last as I say above). He also was constantly shooting through windows as a natural place-setting and framing device for his mise-en-scene. He was also, along with Hitchcock, an early master of shooting, tracking and re-framing the action within the same shot.
- The Rules of the Game
- Grand Illusion
- The Crime of Monsieur Lange
- La Bete Humaine
- La Chienne
- A Day in the Country
- The River
- Boudu Saved from Drowning
- The Southerner
- French Cancan
By year and grades
|1931- La Chienne||MS|
|1932- Boudu Saved From Drowning||HR|
|1936- A Day in the Country||HR/MS|
|1936- The Crime of Monsieur Lange||MS|
|1936- The Lower Depths|
|1937- Grand Illusion||MP|
|1938- La Bete Humaine||MS|
|1939- The Rules of the Game||MP|
|1945- The Southerner||R|
|1951- The River||HR|
|1952- The Golden Coach||R|
|1955- French Cancan||R|
|1956- Elena and Her Men||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
I completely agree that The Human Beast (La Bete Humaine) is underrated and I have it as his 3rd best film but other than that Renoir is pretty overrated to me. I see that you have him at #14 which is lower than TSPDT’s #7 but even that seems very high to me. His filmography is just not that strong. La Chienne is his 5th best but Fritz Lang’s remake Scarlet Street is way better. When I compare that to 5th best films from other people on the list around that spot, it’s just not comparable. Actually I wouldn’t be mad at all if he only had 4 films in top 1000. The rankings of The Day in the Country or The River make me shake my head and even The Rules of the Game being in top 5 or top 10 on many lists…I don’t see it.
@Chief Keef- as you say we’re largely on the same page. I’ve only seen The River once and i has been 15 years or so, so I want to withhold judgement. Have you seen Boudu? It has never blown me away either.
Renoir is so utterly dominant in the 1930’s though– he really has no peer or competition for best director of the decade. That, and his sublime work just gliding the camera back and forth, is the case for him.
Yeah I saw Boudu, the only one I haven’t seen out of these you have here is Elena and Her Men. As I said I would’t have any problems if anything apart from his best 4 films was left out of top 1000
I guess you can look at it that way, but I never felt an obligation to distribute it evenly like that. If the best 10 directors ever are from 2030s then they just are.
@Chief Keef- I agree with you on distributing it evenly- I don’t. I was just bringing up the counter argument.
[…] 14. Jean Renoir […]
Jean Renoir Rankings
Total Watched Films: 7
Total Archiveable Films: 7
Total Top 100-Worthy Films: 2
Best Film: The Rules of the Game. When I watched The Grand Illusion, I knew The Rules of the Game was going to have to do some damn heavy lifting if it was supposed to be better in any way than Renoir’s first giant masterpiece. And it certainly lifted. A lot has been written about this film and it’s importance to Renoir’s reputation as a master of camera movement and deep-focus cinematography and its influence on directors like Fellini and Bunuel (particularly The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) and that is extremely important to this film. I’m not certain this isn’t the best film I’ve ever seen, but I’m not going to outright say it after one viewing, though I think this will land in my top 10 of all time. I think I’d specifically like to spotlight this film’s screenwriting brilliance in my short little review of it. Early on in the film, there’s a point where Christine is given a short eyeglass in order to spot a squirrel on a tree and at the same time in a different subplot her husband is on a liaison with his mistress Genevieve, and using the eyeglass she spots them; two separate subplots brilliantly colliding here creating much of the conflict for the rest of the film. Another example is how, after Octave and Lisette flirt a few times throughout the film, she eventually gives Christine her coat when she and Octave go out to the greenhouse, and her husband and lover both think Octave is out there with Lisette and resolve to kill him, but then themselves fall victim to a second case of mistaken identity and kill André instead. All of this brilliant screenwriting is breathtakingly brought to life by Renoir, and while this film is famous – and rightfully so – for its camera movement, Renoir’s incredible frames are not to be forgotten either and I’ve already mentioned the incredible screenplay and acting (Nora Gregor, Marcel Dalio and Renoir himself are especially good). One of the best films of all time and a masterpiece.
Most Overrated: The River. I really don’t get the praise for this one at all. I remember the first 25 minutes of this film getting bored out of my mind by the dull drama and lack of almost anything remotely resembling cinema, not to mention the droning voice-over (felt like a few years passed by as I listened to the narration in this or to the film), which may have partially been because I was coming off of The Rules of the Game as the last film I watched from Renoir but even without that I still would’ve felt this film was overrated. Admittedly it did get better as Renoir mostly forgot he was doing voice-over narration for the film (some might call that bad form; I call it cutting weight) and the film’s use of color (Renoir was using color here more than a decade before it caught on big in Europe) only got better and better and so did the actual frames themselves (I liked a lot of Renoir’s dissolves in this film), and I do think it’s a very solid film but I don’t think it will end up in my top 500 (if it does – and trust me, it won’t – it will only be smack-dab at #500) but TSPDT has this all the way up at #172 which is incredibly overrated, though not as much as I thought at first. I think most critics here are taking Renoir’s humanist look at India and examination of the blending of Western and Indian culture as some kind of cinematic brilliance and it isn’t. I really don’t understand why this one is ranked in masterpiece territory since after one viewing I can’t say I’m close to that. The acting is unexceptional and I’d probably recast the whole movie and again; I really struggled with that voice-over early in the movie that almost made me just turn it off outright without finishing it. I felt absolutely bogged down listening to her talking.
Most Underrated: Toni. I don’t get this one either, but in the opposite direction. This film is, as with everything else I’ve seen from Renoir, a brilliant piece of work, and while his 1930s period is generally very well-respected, this film surprisingly does not end up on the TSPDT Top 1000 (I’ll probably put this in my top 500), and I can’t figure out why. That’s particularly because this film is a predecessor of neorealism (Luchino Visconti was an assistant director on this and A Day in the Country), which would go on to become one of the most major movements in the history of cinema, and (a lot of academia is from a left-wing viewpoint) the film is a portrayal of the struggles of immigrants to France in a new society and of class differences (somewhat ties in with the neorealism). You’d also expect that the admiration the French New Wave directors held for this film would increase its critical standing somewhat but apparently not. I think this is an excellent film. There’s a great shot early on in the film of Toni talking to his hoped-to-be mistress Josefa where the camera pans from a medium-close shot of Toni to a moderate long shot of Josefa that was incredible and probably beats any one shot in La Chienne even if I think that is the overall better film. Other highlights from this film include the scene in which Josefa kills her husband (this could be Mandela effect since I generally don’t take notes when watching as they distract from the viewing experience but I think Renoir dollied or zoomed into their faces during this scene?) and the ending in which Toni is killed protecting Josefa just as his friend is about to secure his innocence in the shooting; really heartbreaking ending. The single best characteristic of this film is the bookends; it starts with a train as Toni and a bunch of other immigrants arrive in France singing songs and the like, and ends with a train as a bunch of immigrants arrive in France singing songs… the cycle repeats. I have this one as the second-weakest from Renoir that I’ve seen but you shouldn’t take that for that – it’s a really strong film.
Gem I Want to Spotlight: La Chienne. This film is largely famous for having been remade by Lang in 1945 as Scarlet Street, which Renoir hated with a burning passion, but in its own right, this was Renoir’s first major sound film, first film in the archives, first film on the TSPDT top 1000, and first film that I watched for this study. It’s a brilliant work of art, and I think the most important aspect of this film is how it influenced the Nouvelle Vague three decades later. This is clear from the very opening of the film; Renoir introduces his characters very playfully and very much like how a Truffaut especially or a Godard would do so; our protagonist (Michel Simon) is introduced (again; this is all of memory as I didn’t take notes so some of this could be inaccurate) as something of a pathetic loser desperate for a woman’s love, then there’s the traditional femme fatale role (Janie Marèse) who takes advantage of our loser main character, and finally Dédé (Georges Flamant)… who is just plain Dédé, no questions asked. They’re presented to us through a puppet show and it’s so Vague-y and I love it to death; told me from the outset that this would be a great study. From that point on the film continues in its excellence; there’s a great bit here about Simon’s character, Maurice and his wife who hates him and his “plebeian” interest in painting; he is her second husband as her first was killed in World War I, and it is her hatred of him that causes him to seek solace in Marèse’s character during the events of the film. His wife’s first husband eventually comes back (he had himself pretended to be dead and taken another soldier’s name during the war since he hated his wife as well) and meets with Maurice in a bar and I believe (again based on memory) he offers to let Maurice and his wife alone in exchange for money to be found in their apartment, and Maurice maneuvers him into revealing himself to be alive in front of the police and his wife in order to get rid of her for good through an annulled marriage and it’s pretty funny. Another darkly funny bit is when Maurice eventually finds out Lulu (Marèse) has been with Dédé, who is a pimp, all along, he gets really angry and when she tells him how much of a loser he is and always has been, he goes up to her apartment one day and kills her, and through sheer misfortune the crime manages to get pinned on Dédé since he’s such a disliked nuisance to the people on the street and he goes to jail and gets executed after a disastrous trial. Finally, the film ends with Maurice meeting I believe the first husband on the street years later; both have become vagabonds and laugh about the experiences of their lives and how they’re somehow still around through it all and the film ends. I really enjoyed this one and I’m very close to a masterpiece on it; I certainly expect to put it in the top 300 when I finally make a list.
1. The Rules of the Game – MP
2. The Grand Illusion – MP
3. A Day in the Country – MS/MP
4. The Crime of Monsieur Lange – MS (leaning MS/MP)
5. La Chienne – MS
6. Toni – MS
7. The River – HR/MS
Renoir’s strength is his top 2 films and the fact that he has great depth (lowest-ranked film is a HR/MS), that he is unchallengeable for dominance in the 1930s decade (his top 2 films currently stand as my top 2 for the 1930s), and that he is very much a style-plus director. His weaknesses include that I just haven’t been able to catch enough of his films despite the depth and he only has two top 100-worthy films: compare him to Bergman or Hitchcock with 5, Fellini and Tarkovsky with 4 (I should add I don’t actually have Juliet of the Spirits as one of those currently but I hope I’m wrong as I hope to rewatch it relatively soon) fellow Frenchmen Truffaut (did I mention I saw Shoot the Piano Player again?) and Godard with 3. In fact, he doesn’t have another film that I expect will land in the top 250 (but A Day in the Country and The Crime of Monsieur Lange just might), and you’d expect more from a director of Renoir’s stature, but again, I should mention that his best film, The Rules of the Game, may well be better than any one film from any of these directors, and his second best film, La Grande Illusion, is also probably better than most of those directors’ second-best films (it might even be better than Bergman’s best which is Fanny and Alexander), and those are certainly some strengths indeed.
I was extremely disappointed when I could not find Boudu Saved From Drowning, La Bête Humaine (I was especially looking forward to more Gabin after The Grand Illusion) or French Cancan for this study, but I won’t lose sleep over it and I’ll just have to move on to the next director.
@Zane- this is fantastic. Bummer about Boudu, La Bête Humaine, French Cancan– but you’re right. Don’t lose sleep over it, move on, keep your eye out for them down the road.
@Zane, thanks for your review. It was a joy to read.
I just watched A Day in the Country, and I am interested why is held in such high regard. @Drake has it as HR/MS, @Zane as MS/MP and TSPDT also has it pretty high, but I think its (just) HR, a great HR, but still HR, so it seems like I am missing something- if anybody can explain this film to me, I will be very grateful.
La Chienne HR
Boudu Saved From Drowning HR
A Day in the Country MS
The Crime of Monsieur Lange MS
The Lower Depths —
Grand Illusion MP
La Bete Humaine MS
The Rules of the Game MP
The Southerner R
The River HR
The Golden Coach R
French Cancan HR
Elena and Her Men —
My ranking of Renoir`s films that I`ve seen:
1. The Rules of the Game MP
2. Grand Illusion MP
3. The Crime of Monsieur Lange MS
4. La Chienne MS
5. La Bete Humaine MS
6. Toni HR/MS
7. The River HR/MS
8. Partie De Campagne HR
9. French Cancan HR
10. Boudu Saved from Drowning HR
11. The Lower Depths R/HR
12. The Golden Coach R
13. This Land is Mine R
14. Swamp Water R
10 Best Performances
1. Gabin- Grand Illusion
2. Simon- La Chienne
3. Gabin- La Bete Humaine
4. Gregor- The Rules of the Game
5. Stroheim- Grand Illusion
6. Simon- Boudu Saved from Drowning
7. Blavette- Toni
8. Marese- La Chienne
9. Renoir- The Rules of the Game
10. Dalio- The Rules of the Game/ Fresnay- Grand Illusion
@RujK- I’m so impressed with this update. Keep up the good work!