As we were leaving the theater my collaborator BKG chose the word luminous for Christa Theret who portrays Catherine Hessling in the currently playing Renoir. There are right now too many film award groups and far too many awards; but Theret, the model who calls herself Andree* while at the Renoirs’, has me wondering if it is time for an award for casting. She is absolutely right for her role, for the camera, for the world of Auguste Renoir (played by Michel Bouquet). Her hair, her figure, her flesh, her grace — AND her acting ability as she catches or projects the emotional tones and colors of each scene or serves as the discordant note in a household increasingly volatile once she joins it.
She lives for us in a world of light and color that dares to reflect Renoir’s brush. The film is breathtaking but never self-consciously beautiful. It is not asking us to admire or praise it. Its camera simply looks at the world as would, as did, Renoir.
But this picture is more than light and camera. There are people besides this remarkable model, and there is action. When Andree joins the household there are already four women living there with the widower/painter, apparently former models, now housekeepers/cooks/caretakers. They bathe his body, massage his arthritic painter’s hands and gracefully carry him about the house and grounds, even on picnics, in his wheelchair.
Complications, including romantic ones, follow on the arrival of his son Jean from the World War 1 front. This is the Jean Renoir who will eventually make those films so many of us love but will now rival his father for the attentions of his newest model. Vincent Rottiers is superbly tense and understated as Jean. Thomas Doret is excellent as kid brother Claude who is fourteen and wrestling with his own hormones.
*My apologies to my readers for the current lack of accents on my keyboard. Please imagine an accent aigu in Andrees’s name and other diacritical marks on the names of others.
writing: Gilles Bourdos, Jacques Renoir,
Michel Spinosa, Jerome Tonnerre
production design: Benoit Barouh
photography: Ping Bin Lee
music: Alexandre Desplat
casting: Elsa Pharaon
PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS: Speaking of French actors, look on my next post for an addition to my list in progress of the 25 greatest performances by male actors.
NEXT POST Friday, July 12
See you then,