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