Renoir’s films were underestimated when they first came out. They were unconventional, complex, and so energetic and technically daring that few noticed their intricate structure. They were often dismissed as rough, not fully achieved artistically. The generation that came to the cinema in the ’60s and ’70s (perhaps the richest and most diverse era in European cinema) recognised Renoir as an ancestor who had already made the kind of films they admired or were setting out to make themselves, and justly hailed them as masterpieces. 
The son of the great impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean Renoir was also a master of his medium: cinema. After making his mark in the early thirties with two very different films, the anarchic send-up of the bourgeoisie Boudu Saved from Drowning and the popular-front Gorky adaptationThe Lower Depths, Renoir closed out the decade with two critical humanistic studies of French society that routinely turn up on lists of the greatest films ever made: Grand Illusion andThe Rules of the Game (the former was celebrated in its time, but the latter was trashed by critics and audiences—until history provided vindication).

 After a brief, unfulfilling Hollywood stint during World War II, Renoir traveled to India to make his first Technicolor film, The River, and then returned to Europe in the early fifties to direct three visually dazzling explorations of theater, The Golden Coach, French Cancan, and Elena and Her Men. Renoir persisted in his cinematic pursuits until the late sixties, when, after the completion of The Little Theater of Jean Renoir, a collection of three short films, he decided to dedicate himself solely to writing, leaving the future of the medium to those who looked to him in reverence.
Renoir says that “in the history of all the arts, the arrival of perfect realism has coincided with a perfect decadence.” He heads off into the realm of the history of tapestry to explain the point, which culminates in the following remark :
 I wonder whether man isn’t gifted for the beautiful, despite himself, but whether his intelligence, that devastating faculty (intelligence is terrible, we only do stupid things with intelligence)—whether intelligence doesn’t push us toward the ugly. Whether our intelligence doesn’t make us servants and desperate lovers of everything that’s awful and horrible, and whether our tendency to imitate nature isn’t just a tendency toward what’s ugly—because the things in nature that we imitate aren’t the beautiful things in nature.