JEAN RENOIR by Raymond Durgnat


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Jean Renoir is everybody's favorite. Chaplin calls him the world's best director, Durgnat in an interesting new critical study compares him to Tolstoy, and young cineastes flock to retrospectives of his films. When one thinks of his oeuvre, the richness and variety of his undertakings -- spanning a number of decades -- are immediately apparent. Renoir can range from the symphonic moodiness of Grand Illusion to the Mozartian lightness of The Rules of the Game, from the fatalistic Human Beast to the picaresque Golden Coach; he can capture the French countryside in Toni, the American sharecropper in The Southerner, and the spell of India in The River. He is both warm and daring, worldly yet earthy, and though he himself has remarked that ""everyone really only makes one film in his life, and then he breaks it up into fragments and makes it again, with just a few little variations each time,"" probably the moat striking thing about Renoir is the spontaneity of his inspiration. He, more than any other director, reawakens the ordinary, makes the most familiar material a new experience for his viewers. This, however, can create problems for his admirers, as it does now and again with Durgnat, whose sympathetic, careful, instructive portrait of the man and his accomplishments always threatens, after a certain point, to become nothing more than a series of publicity blurbs. Eulogies require genius, too. Still Durgnat does encompass the protean Renoir in a pithy phrase (""pilgrim of the relative"") and he cleverly notes that though ""home comforts"" are what he's after, these are never the comforts of the bourgeoisie, since ""complacency, a good conscience, property rights, vanity"" are not among Renoir's values. Generosity, coupled with a stoical self-sufficiency, give heart to the dullest life, transform the conventional, liberate us from the tyranny of accepted opinion, as Renoir so beautifully demonstrates film after film.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1974
Publisher: Univ. of California Press