Do you want to hear something crazy? J and I had only seen three movies in the theater together: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Taken 2,” and “Lincoln.” I don’t really know how to justify that, so we’ll just move along to this past weekend, when we went out for pizza and then saw “Renoir” at the Ritz, upping our count to four. A few weeks ago I’d checked the showtimes for the movie “Trance” when I found out about “Renoir,” and it jumped to the top of my must-see list.
It’s a stunning movie, soaked in sunlight and filmed on the French Riviera. Renoir has always been one of my favorite artists, ever since I was a (total art-snob) kid (I once stormed out of a Picasso exhibit at three, declaring the work to be “dreck.” What can I say, I guess I preferred Impressionism even back then) and this movie did not disappoint. It focuses on the later years of his life, after the arthritis has made walking and even painting a painful undertaking (“And what will you do when you can no longer use your hands?” his doctor asks in one scene. “I’ll paint with my dick,” he responds). Both Renoir and his oldest son Jean fall under the spell of Andrée, the beautiful model who serves as the artist’s muse. The film is slow and languid, the way artsy movies are allowed to be, with long camera pans across fields set to gorgeous orchestral music. There was one scene where Renoir moves to clean his paintbrush, and the whole screen is a tight shot of just the water in the glass, the orange paint swirling like smoke as he dips his brush in, once, twice. Obviously I got teary-eyed. Come on, did you expect anything less?
In the film, Renoir says that his work is cheerful because, “there are enough disagreeable things in life. I don’t need to create more.” Part of what makes his work so beautiful is how simply lovely and sweet each piece is, without ever looking cheap or easy. Happy, beautiful women, proud men, flowers, people enjoying life. I’m reminded of the movie “Amelie,” where Raymond Dufayel (“the glass man”) spends his time cooped up in his apartment, replicating “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” wondering what each person in the painting is thinking. (And also, the scene where he becomes so exasperated with Lucien talking about Lady Di all the time that he yells, “‘Lady Di! Lady Di!’ RENOIR!”)
But perhaps his most famous work is “The Bathers” which he painted in the last year of his life. Do you know what I’ll be doing in the last year of my life? Not creating things like this:
There was one scene that alluded heavily to this painting, with Andrée and another model laying in the grass, posed similarly.
I loved it, needless to say. I’m not sure how much longer it will be in the theater, so I’m happy to have had a chance to see it. Hopefully it will have a DVD release as well, and though I’d like it I’m not holding my breath for a soundtrack.