A soft and light biopic of the great French painter and his soon-to-be filmmaker son.
One of the most important artistic dynasties in modern French history get their own dainty origin story. Well, it's an origin story of sorts which charts the process of a cantankerous father passing the creative baton to his errant son, as the aged and increasingly fragile Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet) sees out his twilight years propped behind an easel on the grounds of his rustic estate in Cagnes-sur-Mer and his son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) starts to develop an interest in moviemaking and women.
Director Gilles Bourdos attempts to tell the story as a kind of bucolic reverie, channeling the soft, washed out colours of a Renoir canvas into the tale of intergenerational artistic and romantic awakenings. The film is given its timeframe by the arrival of Christa Theret's lissom, flighty redhead, Andrée Heuschling, who swiftly becomes Renoir Snr's muse and confident and Renoir Jr's romantic ideal (they even married and she starred in a few of his early pictures credited as Catherine Hessling).
Like so many fictionalised versions of the artistic process, Renoir takes is though the standard rotation of highs and lows, emphasising the notion that while the canvases being created depict a gentle vision of freedom in the context of the natural world, the reality is quite different. The elder Renoir is withering away, he can no longer walk and his hands are no so badly damaged that he can barely keep hold of his brush. It's corny, but the film runs with the idea that an artist is an artist for life, and when the body is no longer the physical conduit for those impulses, then there's no real point to life.
The film is easygoing and lightly erotic, its flesh and fields filmed in shimmering soft focus. Bourdos is at his strongest when chronicling a moment – such as the creation of the painting we now know as Women Bathing – and it's gratifying that he choses to tell the story of these two men's lives by focusing on a very short window of time. Yet, the story falters when it runs through its very traditional, even hackneyed arcs: watching the son wheedle his way into his father's heart, or the son inevitably falling in love with the muse, is really not so interesting.
The Renoir clan fall under the biopic microscope.
Very pleasant, robustly made, if hardly earth-shattering in its revelations.
Mature crowds and art history scholars may enjoy this one more than The Kidz.