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  And, indeed, I will ask on my own account here, an idle question: which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?---Fyodor Dostoevsky ---Notes from Underground There are certain people of whom it is difficult to say anything which will at once throw them into relief—in other words, describe them graphically in their typical characteristics. These are they who are generally known as “commonplace people,” and this class comprises, of course, the immense majority of mankind. Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself. For instance, when the whole essence of an ordinary person’s nature lies in his perpetual and unchangeable commonplaceness; and when in spite of all his endeavours to do something out of the common, this person ends, eventually, by remaining in his unbroken line of routine—. I think such an individual really does become a type of hi


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.

Grand Illusion (1937)

One of the very first prison escape movies, Grand Illusion is hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. Jean Renoir's antiwar masterpiece stars Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay as French soldiers held in a World War I German prison camp, and Erich von Stroheim as the unforgettable Captain von Rauffenstein.

Apart from its other achievements, Jean Renoir's "Grand Illusion” influenced two famous later movie sequences. The digging of the escape tunnel in "The Great Escape" and the singing of the "Marseilles” to enrage the Germans in "Casablanca" can first be observed in Renoir's 1937 masterpiece. Even the details of the tunnel dig are the same--the way the prisoners hide the excavated dirt in their pants and shake it out on the parade ground during exercise

So pointed was Renoir's message that when the Germans occupied France, “Grand Illusion” was one of the first things they seized. It was "Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1,” propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels announced, ordering the original negative seized.  For many years it was assumed that the negative was destroyed in a 1942 Allied air raid.
 But as Stuart Klawens reported in the Nation, it had already been singled out by a German film archivist named Frank Hensel, then a Nazi officer in Paris, who had it shipped to Berlin. When Renoir supervised the assembly of a “restored” print in the 1960s, nothing was known of this negative. He worked from the best available surviving theatrical prints. The result, the version that has been seen all over the world until now, was a little scratched and murky, and encumbered by clumsy subtitles.

The original negative, meanwhile, was captured by Russians as they occupied Berlin and shipped to an archive in Moscow. In the mid-1960s, Klawens wrote, a Russian film archive and one in Toulouse, France, exchanged some prints, including the priceless "Grand Illusion.” But since many prints of the film existed and no one thought the original negative had survived, the negative waited for 30 years before being identified as a treasure. What that means is that the restored print of "Grand Illusion” now being shown around the country is the best seen since the movie's premiere. And new subtitles by Lenny Borger are much improved--"cleaner and more pointed,” says critic Stanley Kauffmann.

But if "Grand Illusion” had been merely a source of later inspiration, it wouldn't be on so many lists of great films. It's not a movie about a prison escape, nor is it jingoistic in its politics; it's a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization. Perhaps that was always a sentimental upper-class illusion, the notion that gentlemen on both sides of the lines subscribed to the same code of behavior. Whatever it was, it died in the trenches of World War I.


 La Règle du Jeu (1939)

Considered one of the greatest films ever made, The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu), by Jean Renoir, is a scathing critique of corrupt French society cloaked in a comedy of manners in which a weekend at a marquis’ country château lays bare some ugly truths about a group of haut bourgeois acquaintances. 

The film has had a tumultuous history: it was subjected to cuts after the violent response of the premiere audience in 1939, and the original negative was destroyed during World War II; it wasn’t reconstructed until 1959. 

"I've seen Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" in a campus film society, at a repertory theater and on laserdisc, and I've even taught it in a film class -- but now I realize I've never really seen it at all. This magical and elusive work, which always seems to place second behind "Citizen Kane" in polls of great films, is so simple and so labyrinthine, so guileless and so angry, so innocent and so dangerous, that you can't simply watch it, you have to absorb it."


"I learned the rules of the game from 'The Rules of the Game"-Robert Altman

It is interesting how little actual sexual passion is expressed in the movie. Schumacher the gamekeeper is eager to exercise his marital duties, but Lisette cannot stand his touch and prefers for him to stay in the country while she stays in town as Christine's maid. The aviator's love for Christine is entirely in his mind. The poacher Marceau would rather chase Lisette than catch her. Robert and his mistress Genevieve savor the act of illicit meetings more than anything they might actually do at them.
"It is indeed all a game, in which you may have a lover if you respect your spouse and do not make the mistake of taking romance seriously. The destinies of the gamekeeper and the aviator come together because they both labor under the illusion that they are sincere. I said they are two of the three who play by the rules of the game -- but alas, they are not playing the same game as the others."


 “Que sont mes personnages ? On aurait tort de leur chercher un caractère symbolique, ou de trouver dans La Règle du jeu des thèmes satiriques sociaux. Ces personnages sont de simples êtres humains, ni bons ni mauvais, et chacun d’entre eux est fonction de sa condition, de son milieu, de son passé. Le drame de Nora Gregor est celui de l’étrangère dans un pays qui n’est pas le sien. Celui de Roland Toutain est encore plus complexe : il est le héros impuissant, ce singulier personnage de nos jours qui consacre toute son énergie à l’action et qui, en dehors de l’action, n’est qu’un enfant. Paulette Dubost est la gentillesse féminine même, et Mila Parely la femme qui mène une lutte acharnée, mais légitime, contre celle qu’elle veut déposséder. Tous ces personnages – et Carette, anarchiste bricoleur, Gaston Modot, garde-chasse esclave du devoir, moi-même – gravitent autour de Dalio, pivot de l’action, le seul qui les domine par son intelligence. Chacun d’entre eux a ds raisons d’agir, et ces raisons sont respectables. Ils suivent “la règle du jeu”. Et le jeu, comme dans la vie, est tantôt comique, tantôt dramatique.”

Propos recueillis par Nino Frank, Pour vous (24 mai 1939)

The River (1951)

"Director Jean Renoir’s entrancing first color feature—shot entirely on location in India—is a visual tour de force. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, the film eloquently contrasts the growing pains of three young women with the immutability of the Bengal river around which their daily lives unfold. Enriched by Renoir’s subtle understanding and appreciation for India and its people, The River gracefully explores the fragile connections between transitory emotions and everlasting creation"

The film is one of the simplest and most beautiful by Jean Renoir (1894-1979), among the greatest of directors. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, who was born in India and lived there many years, it remembers her childhood seen through the eyes of a young girl named Harriet (Patricia Walters), who falls in love with the new neighbor. He is Capt. John (Thomas E. Breen), an American who lost a leg in the war and now has come to live with his cousin, Mr. John (Arthur Shields).

"The River" and Michael Powell's "The Red Shoes" are "the two most beautiful color films ever made," -Martin Scorsese



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