To look at the collected paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir is to see all possible colors and textures made more rich and tactile by the light. Gilles Bourdos’ evocative Renoir is less a comprehensive biography than a portrait of the man in his golden years (played with astonishing physical accuracy by Michel Bouquet) when his output is hardly dented at all by his physical impairments.
In 1915 as his life was inevitably coming to a close, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was painting every day in and outside of his studio on the French Riviera. He was surrounded by a sturdy staff of women who nursed him, fed him, and carried him around in a chair, one woman per chair leg. The newest woman to join the company is Andrée (Christa Théret), who aspires to be his latest muse. She’s possessed of a bohemian spirit, posing in and out her clothes, and becomes the fascination of Renoir’s youngest son, Claude, and the obsession of middle-son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), who’s just returned from the war with a wounded leg.
Andrée’s presence intensely focuses the artist but brazenly disrupts the home. She bickers with the female household staff (at least one of whom used to pose for Renoir) and leads Jean around on a short leash. She insists that her modeling is temporary but she lazes and lingers, perhaps overstaying her welcome and skewing her net worth to both the artist and his fledgling filmmaker son.
What’s remarkable about the film is how vibrant, verdant and, well, painterly it looks. The world captured on Renoir’s canvases was one that demanded to be caressed, whether the subject of a touch was made of straw, wood, leather, glass, cotton, blood, or flesh. Paralleling the detailed surfaces are the green, lavenders and burnt oranges that satiate both the artist’s works and the movie screen. Though some might find the movie too relaxed (there are several scenes of, literally, paint drying), it offers unyielding beauty.
Renoir | Dir. Gilles Bourdos | 111 minutes | Showing at the Tivoli Cinemas. Click here for showtimes.