Published Apr 11, 2013As much a biopic about the anticlimactic golden years of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet)—in the late 1910s while creating his final "bathers" works—as it is about the birth of his son Jean's (Vincent Rottiers) filmmaking career, Gilles Bourdos' soporific period drama, Renoir, lacks the very vitality demonstrated by the artists it depicts.
It's a work that teeters tenuously on feminist reconstruction, suggesting that their shared muse, Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret)—the nude model in Auguste's later works and the eventual wife of Jean—was the inspiration and driving force of their passion. But it lacks the conviction, focus and potential alienating qualities necessary to make such a bold statement, instead vacillating between reverence and ambivalence over making any sort of assertion at all.
It starts with the severely arthritic Renoir taming new model Andrée, painting her in the nude while she endlessly reiterates to the maids—mostly ex-models and sexual companions of the renowned visual artists— that she is not a whore. She is an actress — something considered vulgar to the single-minded, incapacitated Renoir, whose belief is that the only true art a man can make is with his hands, which, ironically, fail him on a daily basis.
His youngest son, Coco (Thomas Doret), implies more about the artist than his many impressionist rants do—their infamous refusal to use black on the canvas is addressed—asking the voluptuous model if he can see her "tits" and talking about his distant father as though he's an empty channel for self-congratulation and satisfaction.
Jean doesn't even pop up until the second act, leaving absolutely no impression as a character, aside from verbalizing his disdain for the art of film and occasionally screwing the very eager and ambitious redheaded beauty his father paints.
Bourdos' chief demonstration of care for his subjects stems from his use of colourful, natural compositions, re-creating the works of Auguste with an abundance of care and similarly framing all peripheral imagery with a comparable thoughtfulness. Any examples of Jean's filmmaking style are virtually non-existent, but then again, the focus is on the muse that convinced him to try this newfangled, tacky, art form in the first place.
What's really unfortunate about this incidental, throwaway biopic is the lack of character and depth both men are given. It seems that Bourdos' intent was to show how both of them were merely vessels for the inspiration and vivaciousness of women. But since even Andrée is little more than a neurotic actress cliché meandering around in a virtually non-existent plot, it's hard to take even this assertion seriously. (Mongrel Media)