Main A Companion to Jean Renoir

A Companion to Jean Renoir

Francois Truffaut called him, simply, ‘the best’. Jean Renoir is a towering figure in world cinema and fully justifies this monumental survey that includes contributions from leading international film scholars and comprehensively analyzes Renoir’s life and career from numerous critical perspectives.

  • New and original research by the world’s leading English and French language Renoir scholars explores stylistic, cultural and ideological aspects of Renoir’s films as well as key biographical periods
  • Thematic structure admits a range of critical methodologies, from textual analysis to archival research, cultural studies, gender-based and philosophical approaches
  • Features detailed analysis of Renoir’s essential works
  • Provides an international perspective on this key auteur’s enduring significance in world film history
Chapter none Introduction (pages 1–12): Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau
Chapter 1 Shooting in Deep Time (pages 13–34): Martin O'Shaughnessy
Chapter 2 The Exception and the Norm (pages 35–52): Charles O'Brien
Chapter 3 The Invention of French Talking Cinema (pages 53–71): Michel Marie
Chapter 4 Renoir and His Actors (pages 72–87): Christophe Damour
Chapter 5 Design at Work (pages 88–105): Susan Hayward
Chapter 6 Sur un air de Charleston, Nana, La Petite Marchande d'allumettes, Tire au flanc (pages 107–120): Anne M. Kern
Chapter 7 La Grande Illusion (pages 121–130): Valerie Orpen
Chapter 8 La Bete humaine (pages 131–143): Olivier Curchod
Chapter 9 La Regle du jeu (pages 144–165): Christopher Faulkner, Martin O'Shaughnessy and V. F. Perkins
Chapter 10 The River (pages 166–175): Prakash Younger
Chapter 11 Seeing with His Own Eyes (pages 177–198): Alastair Phillips
Chapter 12 Popular Songs in Renoir's Films of the 1930s (pages 199–218): Kelley Conway
Chapter 13 Renoir and the Popular Theater of His Time (pages 219–236): Genevieve Sellier
Chapter 14 Theatricality and Spectacle in La Regle du jeu, Le Carrosse d'or, and Elena et les hommes (pages 237–254): Thomas Elsaesser
Chapter 15 French Cancan (pages 255–269): Ginette Vincendeau
Chapter 16 Social Roles/Political Responsibilities (pages 270–290): Charles Musser
Chapter 17 Seeing through Renoir, Seen through Bazin (pages 291–312): Dudley Andrew
Chapter 18 Henri Agel's Cinema of Contemplation (pages 313–327): Sarah Cooper
Chapter 19 Renoir and the French Communist Party (pages 328–346): Laurent Marie
Chapter 20 “Better than a Masterpiece” (pages 347–355): Claude Gauteur
Chapter 21 Renoir and the French New Wave (pages 356–374): Richard Neupert
Chapter 22 Renoir between the Public, the Professors, and the Polls (pages 375–394): Ian Christie
Chapter 23 Renoir under the Popular Front (pages 395–424): Brett Bowles
Chapter 24 The Performance of History in La Marseillaise (pages 425–443): Tom Brown
Chapter 25 ToniA Regional Melodrama of Failed Masculinity (pages 444–453): Keith Reader
Chapter 26 La Regle du jeu (pages 454–473): Christopher Faulkner
Chapter 27 Renoir's Jews in Context (pages 474–492): Maureen Turim
Chapter 28 Renoir's War (pages 493–513): Julian Jackson
Chapter 29 Interconnected Sites of Struggle (pages 514–532): Elizabeth Vitanza
Chapter 30 The Southerner (pages 533–543): Edward Gallafent
Chapter 31 The Woman on the Beach (pages 544–554): Jean?Loup Bourget
Chapter 32 Remaking Renoir in Hollywood (pages 555–571): Lucy Mazdon
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A Companion to Jean Renoir

Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Film Directors
The Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Film Directors survey key directors whose
work together constitutes what we refer to as the Hollywood and world cinema
canons. Whether on Haneke or Hitchcock, Bigelow or Bergman, Capra or the
Coen brothers, each volume, comprising 25 or more newly commissioned essays
written by leading experts, explores a canonical, contemporary, and/or controversial auteur in a sophisticated, authoritative, and multidimensional capacity.
Individual volumes interrogate any number of subjects – the director’s oeuvre;
dominant themes; well-known, worthy, and underrated films; stars, collaborators,
and key influences; reception, reputation, and above all the director’s intellectual
currency in the scholarly world.


A Companion to Michael Haneke, edited by Roy Grundmann
A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague
A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, edited by Brigitte Peucker
A Companion to Werner Herzog, edited by Brad Prager
A Companion to Pedro Almodóvar, edited by Marvin D’Lugo and Kathleen Vernon
A Companion to Woody Allen, edited by Peter J. Bailey and Sam B. Girgus
A Companion to Jean Renoir, edited by Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau
A Companion to François Truffaut, edited by Dudley Andrew and Anne Gillain
A Companion to Luis Buñuel, edited by Robert Stone and Julian Daniel Gutierrez-Albilla

A Companion to
Jean Renoir
Edited by

Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Publication

This edition first published 2013
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
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program has been merged with Wiley’s global Scientific, Technical, and Medical business to form
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A companion to Jean Renoir / edited by Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau.
pages cm. – (Wiley-Blackwell companions to film directors)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4443-3853-9 (hardback : alk. paper) 1. Renoir, Jean, 1894–1979–Criticism and
interpretation. I. Phillips, Alastair, 1963– editor of compilation. II. Vincendeau, Ginette, 1948– editor
of compilation.
PN1998.3.R46C66 2013
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Cover image: Photo of Jean Renoir by Sam Levin. Image courtesy of Cinémathèque francaise.
Cover design by Nicki Averill Design and Illustration
Set in 11/13pt Dante by SPi Publisher Services, Pondicherry, India




Notes on Contributors
Notes on the Text
Introduction: Renoir In and Out of His Time
Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau
Part I

Renoir in Close-Up

Section 1

Reassessing Renoir’s Aesthetics

1 Shooting in Deep Time: The Mise en Scène of History in Renoir’s
Films of the 1930s
Martin O’Shaughnessy
2 The Exception and the Norm: Relocating Renoir’s Sound and Music
Charles O’Brien
3 The Invention of French Talking Cinema: Language in Renoir’s
Early Sound Films
Michel Marie




4 Renoir and His Actors: The Freedom of Puppets
Christophe Damour


5 Design at Work: Renoir’s Costume Dramas of the 1950s
Susan Hayward


Section 2

Critical Focus on Selected Films

6 Sur un air de Charleston, Nana, La Petite Marchande d’allumettes,
Tire au flanc: Renoir and the Ethics of Play
Anne M. Kern




7 La Grande Illusion: Sound, Silence, and the Displacement
of Emotion
Valerie Orpen
8 La Bête humaine: Double Murder at the Station at Le Havre
Olivier Curchod
9 La Règle du jeu: Lies, Truth, and Irresolution
(A Critical Round Table)
Christopher Faulkner, Martin O’Shaughnessy, and V. F. Perkins



10 The River: Beneath the Surface with André Bazin
Prakash Younger


Part II


Renoir: The Wider View

Section 1

Renoir’s Filmmaking and the Arts


11 Seeing with His Own Eyes: Renoir and Photography
Alastair Phillips


12 Popular Songs in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s
Kelley Conway


13 Renoir and the Popular Theater of His Time
Geneviève Sellier


14 Theatricality and Spectacle in La Règle du jeu, Le Carrosse d’or,
and Éléna et les hommes
Thomas Elsaesser
15 French Cancan: A Song and Dance about Women
Ginette Vincendeau


16 Social Roles/Political Responsibilities: The Evolving
Figure of the Artist in Renoir’s Films, 1928–1939
Charles Musser


Section 2


Renoir’s Place in the Critical Canon

17 Seeing through Renoir, Seen through Bazin
Dudley Andrew


18 Henri Agel’s Cinema of Contemplation: Renoir and Philosophy
Sarah Cooper


19 Renoir and the French Communist Party: The Grand Disillusion
Laurent Marie


20 “Better than a Masterpiece”: Revisiting the Reception
of La Règle du jeu
Claude Gauteur




21 Renoir and the French New Wave
Richard Neupert


22 Renoir between the Public, the Professors, and the Polls
Ian Christie


Part III

Renoir, a National and a Transnational Figure


Renoir, the Chronicler of French Society


23 Renoir under the Popular Front: Aesthetics, Politics,
and the Paradoxes of Engagement
Brett Bowles


Section 1

24 The Performance of History in La Marseillaise
Tom Brown


25 Toni: A Regional Melodrama of Failed Masculinity
Keith Reader


26 La Règle du jeu: A Document of French Everyday Life
Christopher Faulkner


27 Renoir’s Jews in Context
Maureen Turim


Section 2


Renoir, the Transnational Figure

28 Renoir’s War
Julian Jackson
29 Interconnected Sites of Struggle: Resituating Renoir’s
Career in Hollywood
Elizabeth Vitanza



30 The Southerner: Touching Relationships
Edward Gallafent


31 The Woman on the Beach: Renoir’s Dark Lady
Jean-Loup Bourget


32 Remaking Renoir in Hollywood
Lucy Mazdon


Select Bibliography


Notes on Contributors

The Editors
Alastair Phillips is Reader in Film Studies at the University of Warwick. He is the
author of City of Darkness, City of Light: Émigré Filmmakers in Paris 1929–1939
(Amsterdam University Press, 2004) and Rififi (I. B. Tauris, 2009), and the co-author,
with Jim Hillier, of 100 Film Noirs (BFI, 2009). He is also the co-editor, with Ginette
Vincendeau, of Journeys of Desire: European Actors in Hollywood (BFI, 2006) and,
with Julian Stringer, of Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts (Routledge, 2007).
Ginette Vincendeau is Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London.
Among her books are Jean Gabin: anatomie d’un mythe, with Claude Gauteur
(Nathan, 1993; La Table ronde, 2006); Pépé le Moko (BFI, 1998); Stars and Stardom in
French Cinema (Continuum, 2000); Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris (BFI,
2003); La Haine (I. B. Tauris, 2005). She is co-editor, with Alastair Phillips, of
Journeys of Desire: European Actors in Hollywood (BFI, 2006) and, with Peter Graham,
of The French New Wave: Critical Landmarks (BFI, 2009). Her book on Brigitte
Bardot was published by the BFI and Palgrave Macmillan in 2013.

Other Contributors
Dudley Andrew is the R. Selden Rose Professor of Film and Comparative Literature
at Yale University. He began his career with three books on film theory, including a
biography of André Bazin, whose thought he has continued to explore in the recent
What Cinema Is! (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) and Opening Bazin (co-edited with Hervé
Joubert-Laurencin; Oxford University Press, 2011). His interest in aesthetics and
hermeneutics led to Film in the Aura of Art (Princeton University Press, 1984), and

Notes on Contributors


his fascination with French film and culture resulted in Mists of Regret (Princeton
University Press, 1995) and Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture (with Steven
Ungar; Belknap Press, 2005). He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and
Jean-Loup Bourget is Professor of Film Studies at the École normale supérieure
in Paris. He is the author of 13 books, including Hollywood: la norme et la marge
(Nathan, 1998), Hollywood: un rêve européen (Armand Colin, 2006), Lubitsch: Satire
and Romance (San Sebastián Film Festival and Spanish Film Archive, 2006), and
Fritz Lang, Ladykiller (Presses universitaires de France, 2009). He is working on a
book on Cecil B. DeMille. He has devoted several articles to Jean Renoir’s films and
taught extensively on the subject.
Brett Bowles is Associate Professor of French Studies at Indiana University,
Bloomington. He is the author of Marcel Pagnol (Manchester University Press,
2012) and has an edited collection of essays on French and German cinema
between 1930 and 1945 in press (Berghahn Books). He currently serves on the editorial boards of Modern & Contemporary France, French Historical Studies, and The
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.
Tom Brown is Lecturer in Film at King’s College London. He is the co-editor, with
James Walters, of Film Moments: Criticism, History, Theory (BFI, 2010) and, with
James Bennett, of Films and Television After DVD (Routledge, 2008). He is the author
of Breaking the Fourth Wall: Direct Address in the Cinema (Edinburgh University Press,
2012) and the co-editor, with Belén Vidal, of the forthcoming ‘The Biopic in
Contemporary Film Culture’ (an AFI Film Reader for Routledge).
Ian Christie is a critic, curator, and broadcaster, and he is currently Professor of
Film and Media History at Birkbeck, University of London. He has written extensively on Russian, British, and French filmmakers, and edited interview books on
Martin Scorsese and Terry Gilliam. As vice president of Europa Cinemas, he is
active in helping cinemas modernize their appeal, especially to youth audiences,
and in developing new ways of measuring film’s cultural impact.
Kelley Conway is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Arts
at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of Chanteuse in the City
(University of California Press, 2004) and has published essays on the work of
Agnès Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, and Brigitte Bardot.
Sarah Cooper is Reader in Film Theory and Aesthetics and Head of Film Studies
at King’s College London. She is the author of Relating to Queer Theory (Peter Lang,
2000), Selfless Cinema? Ethics and French Documentary (Legenda, 2006), and Chris
Marker (Manchester University Press, 2008). She is also editor of “The Occluded


Notes on Contributors

Relation: Levinas and Cinema,” a special issue of Film-Philosophy 11(2) (2007). She
is currently completing a book entitled The Soul of Film Theory.
Olivier Curchod holds a PhD in Cinema Studies and is a professor of French
literature, Latin, and classical culture in Paris. He has published widely on
Renoir, notably monographs on La Grande Illusion (Nathan, 1994) and Partie de
campagne (Nathan, 1995), La Règle du jeu: scénario original de Jean Renoir, with
Christopher Faulkner (Nathan, 1999), and La “Méthode Renoir”: pleins feux sur
“Partie de campagne” (1936) et “La Grande Illusion” (1937) (Armand Colin, 2012).
He co-produced and contributed to the La Règle du jeu DVD collector’s edition
(Éditions Montparnasse, 2005), and contributed supplements to the DVD of
French Cancan (Gaumont, 2010), and the documentary Il était une fois … “La Règle
du jeu” (2010). He has been a contributor to Positif since 1983.
Christophe Damour is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Strasbourg.
He has contributed chapters to Hollywood: les connexions françaises (Nouveau
Monde, 2007), L’Acteur de cinéma: approches plurielles (Presses universitaires de
Rennes, 2007), Les Biopics du pouvoir politique de l’antiquité au XIXème siècle (Aléas,
2010), and Masculinité à Hollywood, de Marlon Brando à Will Smith (L’Harmattan,
2011). He is the author of Al Pacino: le dernier tragédien (Scope, 2009).
Thomas Elsaesser is Professor Emeritus of Film and Television Studies at the
University of Amsterdam and since 2006, Visiting Professor at Yale University. He
has authored, edited, and co-edited some 20 volumes. Among his recent books as
author are European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood (Amsterdam University
Press, 2005), Terror und Trauma (Kadmos, 2007), Film Theory: An Introduction through
the Senses (with Malte Hagener; Routledge, 2010), and The Persistence of Hollywood
(Routledge, 2011).
Christopher Faulkner is Distinguished Research Professor at the Institute of
Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture at Carleton University,
Ottawa. He is the author of The Social Cinema of Jean Renoir (Princeton University
Press, 1986), Jean Renoir: A Conversation with His Films, 1894–1979 (Taschen,
2007), and, with Olivier Curchod, La Règle du jeu: scénario original de Jean Renoir
(Nathan, 1999).
Edward Gallafent is Professor in Film Studies at the University of Warwick. He is
a member of the editorial board of Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, and is the
author of Clint Eastwood: Actor and Director (Studio Vista, 1994), Astaire and Rogers
(Columbia University Press, 2002), and Quentin Tarantino (Longman, 2006).
Claude Gauteur is based in Paris. He has written and edited numerous books on a
wide range of key figures in French cinema, including Jean Cocteau, Michel Simon,

Notes on Contributors


Sacha Guitry, and Marcel Pagnol, as well as Jean Renoir. Among his publications as
writer or editor on the filmmaker are Jean Renoir: la double méprise (1925–1939)
(Editeurs français réunis, 1980), Ecrits (1926–1971) (Pierre Belfond, 1974), Oeuvres
de cinema inédites (Éditions Gallimard, 1981), and D’un Renoir l’autre (Le Temps des
cerises, 2005). He is the author, with Ginette Vincendeau, of Jean Gabin: anatomie
d’un mythe (Nathan, 1993; La Table ronde, 2006).
Susan Hayward is Emeritus Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of
Exeter. She is the author of several books on French cinema: French National Cinema
(Routledge, 2005), Luc Besson (Manchester University Press, 1998), Simone Signoret:
The Star as Cultural Sign (Continuum, 2004), Les Diaboliques (I. B. Tauris, 2005),
Nikita (I. B. Tauris, 2010), and French Costume Drama of the 1950s: Fashioning Politics
in Film (Intellect, 2010). She is also the author of Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts
(Routledge, 2006), and, with Ginette Vincendeau, editor of French Film: Texts and
Contexts (Routledge, 2000).
Julian Jackson is Professor of Modern French History at Queen Mary, University
of London. His publications, which have been translated into many languages,
include The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934–1938 (Cambridge
University Press, 1988), France: The Dark Years, 1940–1944 (Oxford University
Press, 2001), The Fall of France (Oxford University Press, 2003), De Gaulle
(Haus Publishing, 2003); La Grande Illusion (BFI, 2009), and Living in Arcadia:
Homosexuality, Politics and Morality in France, 1945–1982 (University of Chicago
Press, 2010).
Anne M. Kern is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Cinema Studies at
Purchase College, State University of New York. She has published work on
European and American cinema, surrealism, and psychoanalysis, including “From
One Exquisite Corpse (in)to Another: Influences and Transformations from Early
to Late Surrealist Games,” in Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren et al. (eds), Exquisite Corpse
(University of Nebraska Press, 2009). She is currently completing a book-length
project entitled A Sense of Play: Instances of the Ludic in Twentieth-Century European
Film and Theory.
Laurent Marie formerly lectured in French in the School of Languages and
Literatures at University College Dublin. He is the author of Le Cinéma est à nous:
le PCF et le cinéma français de la Libération à nos jours (L’Harmattan, 2005). Other
publications include chapters in Les Fictions patrimoniales sur grand et petit écrans
(Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2009) and Policiers et criminels: un genre populaire européen sur grand et petit écrans (L’Harmattan, 2009).
Michel Marie is Professor in Cinema Studies at the University of Paris 3: Sorbonne
nouvelle. He is the author of La Nouvelle Vague: une école artistique (Armand Colin, 1997;


Notes on Contributors

trans. as The New Wave: An Artistic School, 2002), Le Guide des études cinématographiques
(Armand Colin, 2006), Le Cinéma muet (Cahiers du cinéma, 2005), Comprendre Godard
(Armand Colin, 2006), Les Grands Pervers au cinéma (Armand Colin, 2009), and
Les Films maudits (Armand Colin, 2010). He is co-author of L’Esthétique du film
(Nathan, 1983), L’Analyse des films (Nathan, 1988), Le Dictionnaire théorique et critique du
cinéma (Nathan, 2001), and Lire les images de cinéma (Larousse, 2007).
Lucy Mazdon is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Southampton. She
is the author of Encore Hollywood: Remaking French Cinema (BFI, 2000) and editor of
France on Film: Reflections on Popular French Cinema (Wallflower Press, 2001). She is
also the co-editor, with Michael Hammond, of The Contemporary Television Series
(Edinburgh University Press, 2005) and, with Catherine Wheatley, of Je t’aime …
moi non plus: Franco-British Cinematic Relations (Berghahn Books, 2010). She is the
co-author, with Catherine Wheatley, of French Film in Britain Since 1930: Sex, Art
and Cinephilia (Berghahn Books, 2013).
Charles Musser teaches Film Studies at Yale University. His debut book, The
Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (Scribner’s, 1990), received the Jay
Leyda Prize, the Theater Library Award for Best Book on Motion Pictures, and the
Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize. Other publications include Edison Motion Pictures,
1890–1900: An Annotated Filmography (Cineteca del Friuli, 1997) and, edited with
Pearl Bowser and Jane Gaines, Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African American
Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era (Indiana University Press, 2001). His
films include An American Potter (1976) and Errol Morris: A Lightning Sketch (2011).
Richard Neupert coordinates the film studies program at the University of
Georgia where he is Wheatley Professor of the Arts and a J. Meigs Distinguished
Teaching Professor. His books include A History of the French New Wave Cinema
(Wisconsin University Press, 2007) and French Animation History (Wiley-Blackwell,
2011), as well as translations of Aesthetics of Film (by Jacques Aumont et al.;
University of Texas Press, 1992) and Michel Marie’s The New Wave: An Artistic
School (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002).
Charles O’Brien is an Associate Professor of Film Studies at Carleton University
and the author of Cinema’s Conversion to Sound: Technology and Film Style in France
and the U.S. (Indiana University Press, 2004). In 2006–7 he was Ailsa Mellon Bruce
Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington,
DC. He is currently writing a book on musical films of the early 1930s from Britain,
France, Germany, and Hollywood, entitled Entertainment for Export: Movies, Songs,
and Electric Sound.
Valerie Orpen is a freelance writer and translator based in London. She is the
author of Cléo de 5 à 7 (I. B. Tauris, 2007) and Film Editing: The Art of the Expressive

Notes on Contributors


(Wallflower Press, 2003), and a contributor to Alastair Phillips and Ginette
Vincendeau (eds), Journeys of Desire: European Actors in Hollywood (BFI, 2006). She
has also published several articles on French cinema.
Martin O’Shaughnessy is Professor of Film Studies at Nottingham Trent
University. He has written widely on French cinema, but is particularly interested
in political cinema and in the works of Jean Renoir. He is the author of Jean Renoir
(Manchester University Press, 2000), The New Face of Political Cinema (Berghahn
Books, 2007) and La Grande Illusion (I. B. Tauris, 2009). He co-edited Cinéma et
engagement (L’Harmattan, 2007).
V. F. Perkins was a founding editor of Movie magazine and is a member of
the editorial board of its online successor, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism.
Since 1978 he has lectured at Warwick University, in the Film and Television
Studies department that he created. He is the author of Film as Film (Penguin,
1972), The Magnificent Ambersons (BFI, 1999), and La Règle du jeu (BFI/Palgrave
Macmillan, 2012).
Keith Reader is Professor Emeritus of French at the University of Glasgow and
Visiting Emeritus Professor à ULIP (University of London Institute in Paris). He is
the author of books on Robert Bresson (Manchester University Press, 2000) and Jean
Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (I. B. Tauris, 2010), as well as of numerous articles and
chapters on French cinema (in particular the work of Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc
Godard, Alexandre Trauner, and Arletty).
Geneviève Sellier is Professor in Film Studies at the Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux
3 University. She is the author of Jean Grémillon: le cinéma est à vous (Klincksieck, 1989),
La Drôle de guerre des sexes du cinéma français, 1930–1956 (with Noël Burch; Nathan,
1996; Armand Colin, 2005), La Nouvelle Vague: un cinéma au masculin singulier (CNRS
Éditions, 2005; trans. as Masculine Singular: French New Wave Cinema, Duke University
Press, 2008), and Le cinéma au prisme des rapports de sexe, with Noël Burch (Vrin, 2009).
She has been a member of the Institut universitaire de France since 2008.
Maureen Turim is Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of
English at the University of Florida. She has published over 90 essays in journals,
anthologies, and museum catalogues. She is the author of The Films of Oshima
Nagisa: Images of a Japanese Iconoclast (University of California Press, 1998),
Flashbacks in Film: Memory and History (Routledge, 1989), and Abstraction in AvantGarde Films (UMI Research Press, 1985). She is working on a book called Desire and
its Renewals in Cinema.
Elizabeth Vitanza is an independent scholar based in Los Angeles. She earned her
PhD in French and francophone studies at UCLA.


Notes on Contributors

Prakash Younger is Assistant Professor in the English Department at Trinity
College, Hartford, Connecticut, where he also directs the film studies program.
He has published articles on André Bazin, film and philosophy, the history of film
as art, the reception of MTV in India, and the Jamaican cult film The Harder They
Come. He is currently completing a book entitled Boats on the Marne: Jean Renoir’s
Critique of Modernity and researching a book on classic Bollywood cinema entitled
In Search of Sholay.

Figure 0.1 Jean Renoir points the camera at Françoise Arnoul on the set of French
Cancan. Credit: Franco London/British Film Institute.


The editors’ first thanks go to Jayne Fargnoli at Wiley-Blackwell, who asked us to
edit this volume. Her enthusiasm and positive response to our proposal were
extremely heartwarming and encouraging. Galen Young took over the project
and was similarly supportive and helpful. Felicity Marsh helped steer the book to
completion with the exceptionally able assistance of Jacqueline Harvey (copyeditor) and Alice Harrison (proofreader).
We are equally grateful to our contributors, who all responded enthusiastically
to our request for a chapter, and produced first-rate scholarship, sometimes in the
midst of personal or work turmoil. This volume encompasses an extraordinary
roll-call of Renoir scholars, experienced and new and, as well as providing innovative, informative, and challenging material, our writers have helped turn the
editing of this book into a truly pleasurable experience. Talking of pleasure, we
will keep a particularly fond memory of the round table on La Règle du jeu that
took place at King’s College London on June 3, 2011; we want to thank V. F. Perkins,
Chris Faulkner, and Martin O’Shaughnessy for a rare experience that perfectly
combined scholarship and friendship. We also would like to thank Michèle Lagny,
Michael Witt, and Dudley Andrew for their support and advice.
Some chapters were written in French and we want to thank our translators –
Peter Graham, Valerie Orpen, and Christopher Faulkner – for their excellent work.
Many thanks also to Claude Gauteur (and his publisher Le Temps des cerises) for
letting us translate extracts from his text on the reception of La Règle du jeu. Last but
not least we are particularly grateful to two graduate colleagues for their efficient
and cheerful work on this manuscript: Olga Kourelou (at King’s College London) for
her help in checking references and her transcription of the round-table recording,
and Celia Nicholls (at the University of Warwick) for her work on the filmography.
Alastair Phillips is grateful to Ed Gallafent and Catherine Constable who, as Heads
of the Department of Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick,
provided research allowances that helped cover expenses related to the book’s production. Additional funding support was provided by the Humanities Research Fund at
the University of Warwick. I am also enormously grateful, as always, for the support



and friendship of my wonderful colleagues at Warwick. Thank you, too, to the readers
of the first draft of my chapter, Ginette Vincendeau, Valerie Orpen, and Alexander
Jacoby, for their nurturing and encouraging feedback – it was much appreciated.
Many people have offered me other kinds of help and assistance, but I must especially
thank Jim Hillier and Fiona, Aaron, and Martha Morey for their vital emotional and
culinary support. My chapter is dedicated to my father who gave me my first, and also
my most recent, camera. Both he and my late mother taught me how to see.
Ginette Vincendeau is grateful to the School of Arts & Humanities at King’s
College London for a grant toward the translation of one chapter from the book,
and to Sarah Cooper as Head of Department for her support in this matter. The
editing of this book was also made possible by a sabbatical leave granted by King’s
College London. The BFI Southbank released a new, digitally restored, print of
French Cancan in July–August 2011 and asked me to introduce it – a timely piece of
programming that helped me complete the chapter on the film for this volume.
Valerie Orpen, Alastair Phillips, Simon Caulkin, and Leila Wimmer read the
chapter and provided very useful feedback, for which many thanks. As ever, Simon
Caulkin provided unerring and much needed personal support.

In Memoriam
While we were editing this book, we were sad to hear that Cora Vaucaire, who
sings “La Complainte de la butte” in French Cancan, died on September 17, 2011;
Paulette Dubost, the unforgettable Lisette of La Règle du jeu, died on September 21,
2011; and Mila Parély, who played the equally unforgettable Geneviève in La Règle
du jeu, died on January 14, 2012. Luckily, they all live on in Renoir's films.

Figure 0.2

Jean Renoir and his son, Alain, in 1939. Credit: British Film Institute.

Notes on the Text

Foreign-language quotations are translated into English by the authors, unless
a published translation has been used (in which case this is the version cited). The
original language is retained only if a point is made about language.

French Film Titles
For Renoir’s films, the English translation is dispensed with, as the reader will find
English-language versions of Renoir’s film titles in the complete filmography at
the end of the volume. For other films, an English translation is provided after the
first mention, and thereafter the French title is used.

Definitive spelling of the names of cast, crew, and characters is notoriously difficult to arrive at. For the sake of consistency across this volume, in any case that is
open to debate we have deferred to the original film credits along with standard
authoritative texts, assenting always to the fact that the version we have chosen to
follow is not the only variant.

References throughout the book are as complete as possible. However, a number of
daily and weekly press references do not indicate a page number. This is because they
were obtained by the authors from either the database at BiFi (Bibliothèque du film)


Notes on the Text

in which the scanning of articles has deleted page numbers, or the Rondel collection
of clippings at the Département des arts du spectacle of the Bibliothèque nationale
de France, in which page numbers are also frequently missing. Readers wishing to
consult the full articles are directed to the BiFi Library (51 rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris),
which offers fast and convenient online access to the material; or the Département
des arts du spectacle, Bibliothèque nationale de France, site Richelieu (5 rue Vivienne,
75002 Paris); or the Bibliothèque nationale de France, site François-Mitterrand (quai
François-Mauriac, 75013 Paris), which holds full issues of the papers.

Renoir In and Out of His Time
Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

There is also genius.
V. F. Perkins1
Renoir’s outstanding status in French and world cinema stems from a unique
combination of factors: his illustrious father (the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir),
his political commitment to the Left in the 1930s, his long and eventful career spanning four decades and four countries (France, the United States, India, and Italy),
his own prolific writing, and last but not least his extraordinary body of films –
some of which (La Grande Illusion, 1937; La Règle du jeu, 1939) are universally considered masterpieces. Over 38 films, Renoir ranged from avant-garde amateur
work in the silent era to major popular successes in the 1930s and 1950s; he worked
in fiction but also made a celebrated documentary for the Communist Party (La
Vie est à nous, 1936); he championed location shooting and produced masterpieces
in studio sets; and he explored all the possibilities of the French film industry, while
also learning Hollywood’s methods. He was considered – and considered himself – a
quintessential French filmmaker, yet he took American nationality and died in
Beverly Hills. The topics of his films ranged hugely: from book adaptations to
original scripts, from historical to contemporary subjects, from the farmers of the
Midi to Parisian typesetters, and from French cancan dancers to American farmers
of the Deep South. Yet if this suggests a chameleon-like or even inconsistent figure, many have argued – convincingly – for a strong coherence in his work, both
thematic (a particular kind of humanism) and stylistic (realism as a defining feature). Indeed, Renoir was one of the key exhibits for the politique des auteurs; for
François Truffaut, his films were “as personal as fingerprints” (de Baecque and
Toubiana 1999: 162). The aim of this book is thus to explore what is both a duality
and a tension, between the wide-ranging variety and the deep coherence, and
A Companion to Jean Renoir, First Edition. Edited by Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau.
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2013 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

Figure 0.3 Production still of Jacques Lantier ( Jean Gabin) in La Bête humaine (Production:
Paris Film Production (Robert Hakim)). Credit: RMN, with thanks to BiFi.

between the many “Renoirs” and the unique imprint. It does this by exposing its
subject to new approaches, by asking different questions, and by re-examining
familiar works from different angles and exploring lesser-known ones.
Producing this collection was both daunting and easy. As a canonical filmmaker,
Renoir has already generated a vast amount of distinguished writing, not least
by himself and by André Bazin, whose collected criticism, first published as
Jean Renoir in French in 1971, François Truffaut called “the best book on the
cinema, written by the best critic, about the best director” (Truffaut in Bazin 1992: 7).
After Bazin, French- and English-language scholarship has produced other
landmark studies, which the reader will find time and again referred to in these
pages: the work of, in particular, Olivier Curchod, Claude Gauteur, Frank
Curot, Claude Beylie, François Poulle, and Daniel Serceau in France, and
Alexander Sesonske, Raymond Durgnat, Christopher Faulkner, Dudley Andrew,
and Martin O’Shaughnessy in the United Kingdom and United States; at the time
of completing this book, a new biography by Pascal Mérigeau has just been
published. Yet, despite this impressive pedigree, it proved easy to attract new
writing. We found that Renoir’s films generate such enduring fascination and
pleasure that our invitation to write on his work met with huge enthusiasm –
from both long-established Renoir experts and younger scholars, all bringing
fresh perspectives to the director’s work.
Our main concern was to offer readers a compendium of new information,
new data, as well as new ideas. The book should be stimulating for those already
familiar with Renoir’s work, while providing a comprehensive resource for those

Introduction: Renoir In and Out of His Time


new to him. Our contributors have exceeded our expectations in helping us
achieve this aim. Their approaches range from close textual analysis to detailed
research within the French and American archives. If this book shows the perennial validity of auteur scholarship when supported by solid evidence (textual and
contextual), it also productively exposes Renoir to newer approaches in film
studies. Chapters deploying philosophy, performance studies, gender studies,
and cultural analysis all confirm that if Renoir is a canonical filmmaker, he is
certainly not a museum figure.
Like Renoir’s films, our approach is wide-ranging. This volume combines thematic chapters on topics such as performance, theatrical adaptation, photography,
the figure of the artist, Renoir’s critical reception, and anti-Semitism, with chapters on aspects of Renoir’s biography and his stylistic features. The book also contains work focusing on just one film. This includes a round table (on La Règle du
jeu) and, in one case, an analysis of a fragment of just one scene (in La Bête humaine,
1938). While we could not possibly cover Renoir’s work exhaustively, we hope to
have provided a sufficiently comprehensive “road map” to enable readers to find
their way through the richness and originality of his work, which justifies his status as, in Truffaut’s words, “the best director in the world.”

Close-Up on Renoir’s Aesthetics
It is a fitting testament to the enduring significance of Bazin’s book on Renoir that
many contributors cite it extensively when discussing the director’s complex mise
en scène. And they have responded eloquently to the challenge of reassessing this
vital element of Renoir’s practice, either by tackling Bazin head-on or by initiating
discussion of relatively neglected aspects of Renoir’s filmmaking that take our
understanding of his career in new directions. In his discussion of Renoir’s practice
of shooting in deep space and, in his neat formulation, “deep time,” Martin
O’Shaughnessy argues that Renoir’s greatest work is driven by an aesthetics
that actively acknowledges the presence of competing historical possibilities.
He shows that if many of Renoir’s films constantly connect inside and outside, it
is not because the world is a stable, unified whole that must be shown as such, but
because the director’s conception of the world is uniquely uneven and in flux. As
he puts it, “something significant changes in the films’ style as history enters their
frame.” Many of the book’s contributors develop this concern with historical
transformation, for instance in terms of Renoir’s fascination with acting and performance. This is extensively documented in Christophe Damour’s chapter, which
provides for the first time a comprehensive inventory of Renoirian acting styles.
Approaching the topic from a different angle, Susan Hayward embeds her discussion of performance in Renoir’s color costume dramas of the 1950s within a
detailed analysis of set design, linking production constraints with aesthetics, and


Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

showing how, for instance, sets within sets, frames within frames, function within
Renoir’s expressive mise en scène.
We are especially delighted that so many contributors have taken up the challenge of reassessing Renoir’s aesthetics in terms of his use of sound. In his thorough and systematic examination of Renoir’s practice in the 1930s, Charles
O’Brien argues that while it remains true that Renoir’s conception of the medium
differed substantially from Hollywood norms, the director remained committed
to a system of conventions that was largely characteristic of French cinema as a
whole. In this way, he documents how Renoir was, in terms of sound, both “the
exception and the norm.” In his chapter, Michel Marie tackles sound from a different angle, arguing that Renoir’s capacity for audio-visual innovation centered
on a unique conception of the expressive potential of the recorded voice, especially the nuances, accents, and registers of the French language. Renoir’s
soundtracks of the 1930s, he points out, are marked by an astonishing variety of
voices and vocal mannerisms that contribute to an almost ethnographic portrayal of France at the time. The importance of the voice is similarly explored in
Valerie Orpen’s incisive reading of sound in La Grande Illusion – a topic which,
surprisingly in view of the importance of language in the film, has been until
now underexplored.
The reader will note a two-pronged method to the book’s appraisal of Renoir’s
style and aesthetics in that it provides both a macro and a micro approach. While
the former privileges one particular aspect of the director’s work – such as cinematography or set design or sound – across a number of films, we have also
commissioned studies of individual titles that deploy a range of analytical methods. Our aim is to provide a broad chronological framework to fully convey the
richness and variety of Renoir’s overall career. Anne Kern thus discusses a selection of Renoir’s silent films of the 1920s which she connects to “the ethics of
play,” before we move to Olivier Curchod’s meticulous archival work on the
mysterious appearance or disappearance of the murder scene in various versions
of La Bête humaine. To mark the monumental significance of La Règle du jeu to
Renoir studies, we have brought together three distinguished Renoir scholars –
V. F. Perkins, Christopher Faulkner, and Martin O’Shaughnessy – for a round
table. Their spirited discussion ranges across a rich array of themes and pinpoints key moments (the offering of a rabbit, a farewell between lovers, etc.), in
the process demonstrating the validity of detailed, close textual analysis as well
as the fact that this extremely well-known film still has more insights to yield.
Finally, in his reflection on the aesthetics of The River (1950), Prakash Younger,
through a rereading of Bazin’s discussion of Renoir’s staging of characters in the
Bengal setting, is fascinated by how a phenomenological engagement with The
River’s pro-filmic world enables a dynamic interpretation of the film’s politics of
realism. By reading the film through Bazin he also helps resolve the contradiction of a film that is both “orientalist and imperialist,” and yet, at the same time,
“a landmark in the history of the cinema.”

Introduction: Renoir In and Out of His Time


Renoir’s Filmmaking and the Arts
Like all major filmmakers, Jean Renoir has been perceived as an exceptional artist,
a figure ahead of his time or even working in opposition to prevailing values. In
short, the unique auteur above the run-of-the-mill metteurs en scène. When influences have been conceded, they have focused on his relationship to his illustrious
father, a view propagated by the director’s own book Renoir, My Father (2001; first
published 1958), developed by much writing on him (including Bazin (1992; first
published 1971)), and proposed more recently by an exhibition in Paris that compared the work of father and son (Benoliel and Orléan 2005). We felt, as a result,
that it was more urgent to explore other connections between Renoir and the
wider culture. To this effect, Alastair Phillips opens up the hitherto neglected, yet
surprisingly rich, relationship between Renoir and photography. Renoir lived and
worked in an era when many of the world’s greatest photographers converged on
Paris and his work is testimony to this, in terms of its aesthetics (his street scenes
for instance), technical experimentation, and manner of self-presentation. In this
fashion, Phillips thus shows Renoir as a cultural figure highly aware of the value
of the image.
Equally crucial has been Renoir’s interaction with the theater – both explicitly,
as a theme that surfaces in many of his films from Nana (1926) to Le Petit Théâtre
de Jean Renoir (1969), and implicitly as a major cultural intertext. Thomas
Elsaesser reflects on both the theme and the mise en scène of theatricality, finding
unexpected echoes between La Règle du jeu in 1939 and postwar costume films
such Le Carrosse d’or (1953) and Éléna et les hommes (1956). He challenges the
dichotomy between Renoir’s early political films and his late “entertainment”
films, concluding that “the game, the spectacle, and theater suddenly appear as
the most difficult, the most serious, and the most dedicated forms of being political.” Whereas Renoir’s seeking inspiration in French eighteenth-century theater,
or in the Italian commedia dell’arte, has long been recognized, as discussed by
Elsaesser and also by Hayward in her chapter on decor, equally important, yet
often ignored, are his adaptations of popular nineteenth- and twentieth-century
plays. In her study of Renoir’s early 1930s films, Geneviève Sellier unearths an
unexpected reliance on the generally disparaged tradition of boulevard theater –
from pieces that are considered “minor,” such as Tire au flanc (1928) and Chotard
et Cie (1933), to great classics like Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932). While Renoir often
reworked the original texts from an innovative aesthetic perspective, Sellier also
demonstrates that he was not immune to the tropes, characters, or ideology of
the popular theater of his time and that, in this respect, his films fitted a major
pattern of French cinema at the coming of sound. But Renoir’s love of popular
stage entertainment also encompassed the cabaret and the music hall. Kelley
Conway and Ginette Vincendeau show how, at different stages of his career, he
used popular song, and in particular the traditional chanson réaliste. Ranging


Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

from La Chienne (1931) to La Bête humaine, Conway shows the astonishing variety
of approaches that Renoir took to the use of diegetic music and songs, thereby
helping the reader to “better understand [Renoir’s] aesthetic and political commitments as well as the importance of music in French classical cinema more
generally.” In her chapter on French Cancan, a work made in the very different
context of Renoir’s return to France after several years in the United States, and
after detours to India and Italy, Vincendeau explores the film’s controversial sexual politics by focusing on its reflection on myths of femininity in traditions of
popular entertainment ranging from the melodramatic chanson réaliste to the
exuberant cancan.
Renoir’s cultural interests varied impressively from high culture to popular
spectacle, and speak of a very modern – if not postmodern – approach to art.
This versatility has clearly informed his films in a number of intangible ways,
but it is also reproduced more literally in the extraordinary diversity of artistic
figures present in his films. As Charles Musser discusses, the figure of the artist
in society has been one of Renoir’s preoccupations throughout his entire
career. Looking more precisely across the director’s films from 1928 to 1939,
Musser explores this range, from the effete poet of Tire au flanc to the poignant
figure of Octave, the “failed” artist of La Règle du jeu, demonstrating in the
process that Renoir emerges as “an author striving to find his own sense of
artistic integrity.”

Shifting Places in the Critical Canon
The centrality of Renoir in French and world cinema is paralleled by his prominence in the critical and academic canon. All the major developments in film studies can be traced, quite literally, through Renoir while, as Ian Christie shows, his
own place as an object of study has significantly shifted over the years. The natural
place to start this investigation is with Bazin, whose writing provides the bedrock
of all subsequent work. Indeed, as Dudley Andrew puts it in his chapter on the
bond between the critic and the director, their actual meeting brought “the best
film critic face to face with the best director.” Exploring the relationship through
themes such as realism and adaptation, Andrew also charts the complex process
whereby their combined work – not to mention talent – helped move the cinema,
in practice and in theory, to full recognition as an art form.
As significant as Bazin’s role in Renoir criticism might be, notably from the
point of view of aesthetics, other approaches have revealed different layers of
meaning to the films. Sarah Cooper’s chapter performs a dual task in this respect.
On the one hand, as her case study of The River shows, the phenomenological
method of Henri Agel’s unjustly forgotten work reveals a more spiritual dimension to Renoir’s cinema. On the other hand, her chapter also brings the cutting

Introduction: Renoir In and Out of His Time


edge of contemporary film studies to Renoirian critical practice, namely the
twinning of film with philosophy. Shifting away from spirituality, though not
from concerns with realism, a counter-approach is offered by Laurent Marie in
his detailed account of the reception of Renoir’s films by communist critics. In
his evocatively titled “The Grand Disillusion,” Marie traces the relationship
between Renoir and communist artists and critics – among whom Georges
Sadoul – from their closeness in the mid-1930s to their subsequent parting of the
ways. He shows how these fluctuations had as much to do with Renoir’s work as
with the communist cultural agenda, but that Renoir ultimately remained the
exemplary figure of a great artist who also knew how to address a popular audience. If the communist reception of Renoir’s work as a whole was uneven, the
broader critical reception of La Règle du jeu was even more dramatic. Indeed,
perhaps the most deeply entrenched “fact” in Renoir studies remains that the
film today revered as Renoir’s masterpiece was originally received with such
hostility in the summer of 1939 that it was subsequently banned during the war
because of its unsettlingly radical nature. This is why we decided to include
Claude Gauteur’s painstaking archival research into the critical reception and
fate of the film which shows this, beyond doubt, to be a myth. Gauteur reveals
that if the reception was not uniformly positive, the film had its early champions
and its fate – like that of many other films – was linked to the historical moment
of the war and the German occupation – another way in which Renoir is productively replaced in his context.
La Règle du jeu would of course become a major harbinger of modern cinema,
in part through its enormous influence on the band of young French critics in
the 1950s who became the New Wave filmmakers. Richard Neupert, in his chapter, traces Renoir’s relationship with the New Wave as a two-way one. He charts
the various ways in which Renoir provided a model for young critics such as
Truffaut and Eric Rohmer to develop their politique des auteurs, and how his films
exerted a major influence on other budding filmmakers such as Louis Malle and
Claude Chabrol. Neupert also shows how, in turn, the young critics had an influence on the veteran director, not least in reviving his critical standing in the
postwar period by arguing, against prevailing opinion, for a continuity between
the prewar and American work. Renoir’s changing fortunes in the 1950s are Ian
Christie’s starting point in his wide-ranging exploration of the director’s critical
and academic reputation over the years. While Renoir – especially for his 1930s
films – has always been regarded as one of the great European directors, Christie
shows how his reputation as a “realist” and a great “humanist” fell out of favor
in the 1970s when the dominant critical agenda was antirealist. This slowly
changed, in part through several landmark scholarly works, which productively
married precisely documented historical contextualization with close textual
analysis. Renoir has remained in the pantheon of film connoisseurship and film
studies ever since, and as Christie puts it, “We are now all free to find the Renoir
who speaks to us most directly.”


Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

French Renoir
In his chapter on the communist reception of Renoir’s work, Laurent Marie mentions that critical disappointment reached a peak with his decision “first to go to
Mussolini’s Italy and, a few months later [. . .] to embark for the United States in
December 1940.” If a certain chauvinism cannot be disregarded here, the French
Communist Party’s (widely shared) reaction stemmed from the sense of Renoir as
a uniquely French filmmaker – a view which he himself promoted on many occasions, with retrospectively perhaps unwise declarations such as: “I am absolutely
certain that I would be unable to produce a proper film outside my own national
community. This is why I refuse to leave my country and work in America” (Renoir
1977 [1938]: 20).
Many, in fact, would agree that Renoir produced his finest work in France.
Leaving these debates aside, Renoir’s French work, especially in the 1930s, indeed
provides a unique chronicle of French society, through his realist aesthetics (shooting on location, attention to sociological detail, socially embedded dialogue), his
interest in French history, and his overt left-wing political agenda. Supreme in
this respect is his work during the Popular Front,2 a period of huge political
and cultural turmoil, which Brett Bowles surveys in a comprehensive and finely
documented manner. Bringing long-standing debates on the topic up to date,
Bowles challenges the classic dichotomy between Renoir’s political work and his
“disengaged” work, seemingly epitomized by the famous phrase uttered by Octave
(played by Renoir) in La Règle du jeu, that in this world, “everyone has their reasons.”
In the process, he reassesses Renoir’s major films of the period, in particular
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, Les Bas-fonds (1936) and La Bête humaine – revealing
Renoir’s work as an “ambitious long-term struggle to implement a personal aesthetic agenda that simultaneously promoted the collective welfare of his nation.”
La Marseillaise (1938) plays an ambivalent part in Renoir’s Popular Front films. A
clearly ideological project that aimed to link the Popular Front of 1936 to the
Revolution of 1789, the film was coolly received, in part for its perceived lack of
criticism toward the king. In his chapter, Tom Brown considers how questions of
self-presentation, artifice, and authenticity are embedded within the film’s rhetorical style. Concerned to find a middle way between traditional Marxist analysis and
“humanist” concerns, Brown examines how La Marseillaise attempts to transcend
these “pitfalls,” by way of a close textual analysis of performance in the film, notably of Pierre Renoir’s incarnation of Louis XVI. Brown’s extremely nuanced discussion of performance is another demonstration of the fruitful linking of
historical context with detailed textual analysis.
Such linkage of text and context is also evident in both Keith Reader’s analysis
of Toni (1935) and Christopher Faulkner’s reading of La Règle du jeu. These two
films incidentally show the scale of Renoir’s quasi-ethnographic project, from
workers in the Midi to aristocrats in the Sologne, and highlight his successful

Introduction: Renoir In and Out of His Time


deployment of genre in reaching this objective (melodrama for Toni, the comedy
of manners for La Règle du jeu). Reader explores how Toni’s story of love and jealousy among poor farm and quarry workers, and in particular the drama of “failed
masculinity” relating to its eponymous character, is distinguished by Renoir’s
ability to recount “a melodramatic story in a decidedly nonmelodramatic way.”
Faulkner’s chapter on La Règle du jeu, part of a wider, ongoing, project, takes a very
different approach. Wondering what sort of knowledge the audience might have
had when they came to the film and, in reverse, what sort of knowledge the film
produced for those audiences, Faulkner selects motifs, objects, characters, and
themes from the film and subjects them to an exacting cultural analysis. His motifs
range from the frivolous (the card game of belote) to the minutely detailed (railway
timetables in the middle of the night) to more momentous cultural matters such
as workers’ exploitation, modern technology, food, and art. He concludes that
“Renoir’s respect for the ordinary and the everyday makes him the filmic chronicler of the mentalités of his time.”
One sensitive aspect of Renoir’s representation of these mentalités is the question of anti-Semitism. This is touched on by Faulkner, and it surfaces in Julian
Jackson’s chapter on Renoir’s war. In her chapter, however, Maureen Turim offers
a thorough exploration of the topic, based in large part on an analysis of La Grande
Illusion. Turim discusses how in both this film and La Règle du jeu, Renoir’s complex, but well-meaning, textual practice remains ambivalent. This ambivalence she
reads as belonging in part to the films’ historical dimension (the legacy of the
Dreyfus affair, the ideological struggles of the 1930s) and in part to Renoir’s biography, as she assesses Renoir’s “effort to make amends on behalf of the Renoir
family,” in particular the virulent anti-Semitism of his father.

International Renoir
There is no doubt, then, that Renoir’s films are deeply steeped in the culture, arts,
and politics of France – the country of his forebears, in which he grew up and
launched his career as one of the nation’s most emblematic filmmakers. Yet, the
surprising prominence in the book of Renoir’s Indian film, The River, suggests
that the director is perceived today as much as a global figure as a national one. As
Ian Christie points out in his discussion of scholars’ and critics’ enduring relationship with Renoir’s work, his films now circulate on DVD and online within a
global cinephilic and academic community, to the extent that he is consistently
perceived as one of the greats of world, and not just French, cinema. During his
own lifetime, however, Renoir already saw himself as an internationalist, watching new films from around the world, traveling to the Soviet Union in the 1930s,
living and working in Hollywood during World War II and, eventually, taking US
citizenship. He thus insured a running dialogue between the Old World and the


Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

New that lasted up to his death. As Vincendeau points out, by the time Renoir
made French Cancan in the mid-1950s, his perception of his homeland was already
permanently tinged by the gaze of an anthropologist looking at his subject with
both the intimate affection and knowledge of a native, and the distanced perspective of a foreign tourist.
With this in mind, we have therefore made a deliberate decision to shed new
light on Renoir’s spirit of internationalism by including work on his relations with
Hollywood cinema, as well as his time in the Indian subcontinent. In his chapter
on the personal and political dimensions of the director’s experience of World War II,
Julian Jackson maps out Renoir’s surprisingly complex and ambivalent ideological evolution immediately before, during, and after the war. This he conducts
through an attentive and revealing examination of – among other documents –
Renoir’s correspondence. Jackson makes the point that against the familiar “master
narrative” that traces a shift from the politically engaged left-wing filmmaker
of the 1930s to the more conservative artist of the 1950s, Renoir’s international
trajectory was rather one of false starts, compromised decisions, and shifts,
together with the forging of new alliances. In this spirit of multifaceted cosmopolitanism and adaptation, Elizabeth Vitanza likewise argues for a reassessment of the
films that Renoir made during his American career. Like Jean-Loup Bourget who
shows in his analysis of The Woman on the Beach that Renoir’s conception of the
conventions of Hollywood genre cinema was particularly acute, she suggests –
against prevailing opinion – that the feature-length English-language films Renoir
made in Hollywood constitute both a formative and a positive chapter in the director’s overall career. Looking at archival evidence, Vitanza convincingly puts forward a more nuanced and micro-historical approach that conveys a sense of
interconnected “sites of struggle,” similar to those that marked Renoir’s earlier
time in France.
To investigate Renoir’s American period further, several writers look at his six
American films in some detail. Jackson embeds analyses of Renoir’s “war effort”
films This Land is Mine (1943) and A Salute to France (1944) in his wider historical
analysis, while Vitanza examines the production context of, in particular, The
Southerner (1945) and The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946). In addition, as mentioned,
Bourget devotes a chapter to The Woman on the Beach, exploring in particular the
dreamlike qualities of this noir drama, a film which, Bourget claims, is “one of
Renoir’s neglected masterpieces.” Similarly, Edward Gallafent challenges the sense
of disappointment elicited, for some critics, by Renoir’s American films, with a
close textual analysis of The Southerner. Gallafent focuses on Renoir’s use of gestures, especially of touching with the hands, and connects this element with the
director’s French career as “extending an element of his work present in his earlier
films.” Finally, Lucy Mazdon deals with another, unexpected dimension of Renoir’s
Franco-American dialogue in her discussion of the remakes of Renoir’s French
films: La Chienne (1931), remade as Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945), La Bête humaine,
remade as Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954), and Boudu sauvé des eaux (1931), remade

Introduction: Renoir In and Out of His Time


as Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Paul Mazursky, 1986). Looking at questions of
social and sexual representation, as well as competing trade and censorship discourses, she claims these remakes are not simply proof of the inherent quality of
their source material (important as this is), but rather the result of specific developments in industrial and aesthetic practices within Hollywood itself.
Like all great artists, Renoir had the ability to reinvent himself. Our contributors
analyze how he moved from gifted amateur in the silent era to prize-winning professional in the second half of the 1930s, how he rose to the challenge of sound in
1930, mastered “filmed theater” and transcended the studio–location split that
marked the period. We learn more about how he was deeply involved with the
momentous political movements of the time, yet in the same year (1936) he could
work on both a communist documentary (La Vie est à nous) and an adaptation of a
Guy de Maupassant novella (Partie de campagne). Undoubtedly a cut above most of
his peers in terms of stylistic innovation, Renoir was also a popular filmmaker,
deploying stars like Jean Gabin in a series of hits. After his stellar trajectory was
interrupted by the catastrophe of World War II, he remade himself into a
Hollywood filmmaker. Moving on again, his career in the postwar period shows
him anticipating the way modern cinema was going (experimental, cosmopolitan,
delocalized), while he also made successful films in the dominant idiom of the
French tradition of quality (French Cancan, Elena et les hommes).
Through both close textual analysis and historical contextualization, our book
thus illuminates the many ways in which Renoir was a figure of his time, a cultural
magpie who not only drew on literature (high and low), games, photography,
painting, landscapes, music, song, and dance, but also the ever-changing human
material that surrounded him. Renoir’s characters touch us through their social
and psychological nuances, the subtlety of their gestures (be they those of Louis XVI,
a poacher in the Sologne, or an American farmer), and the expressive modulation
of their voices. As Michel Marie puts it, “We should never stop listening to the way
actors speak their lines in Renoir’s films” – and nor should we cease to watch them.
It has been a commonplace to assert Renoir’s uniquely cinematic conception of
staging in space. But this anthology also demonstrates a profound engagement
with time: time within the frame, time outside the frame. Renoir’s films relate to
both the past and the present, and they ask us to engage with profound questions
of desire, memory, history, and human experience. At the same time they can be
simply enjoyed, and this book, we hope, is also a testimony to the pleasures offered
by Renoir: the pleasure of watching the films, of thinking about them, writing on
them, editing a book about them, and, we hope, reading about them. The more
we place Renoir back in his time, the more we see how modern he actually was.
At the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century, our book, we
hope, will speak to a whole new generation about an enduring figure of world
cinema whose critical significance still remains, quite simply, timeless.
Submitting Renoir to new approaches implies a renewed critical stance vis-à-vis
both the work and the man. The availability of many films on DVD, the greater


Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau

openness – or deeper scrutiny – of archives, the insights of gender theory, philosophical approaches or cultural studies, enable closer analysis, better contextualization, and the shedding of light on previously murky corners of Renoir’s career
and behavior. Thus Renoir’s ideological positions, for instance regarding the Vichy
regime or anti-Semitism, turn out to be more ambivalent and at times more debatable than previously thought. His production practices were sometimes the result
of contingencies rather than rigorous planning; his cultural sources were often the
same as those of his peers. Yet, what our book reveals is that, paradoxically, the
more we learn of how Renoir was embedded within his time, the more exceptional he emerges. Yes, he adapted boulevard plays, used actors actually not that
differently from other filmmakers, deployed sound and camera technology in line
with current practice – but what matters is that he still produced something
unique. In the end, as V. F. Perkins puts it in our round-table discussion of La Règle
du jeu, there is also genius.


V. F. Perkins, “La Règle du jeu: Lies, Truth, and Irresolution (A Critical Round Table),”
Chapter 9 in this volume.
The Popular Front refers to a broad left alliance (from communists to centrists) that
came to power in June 1936. While the Popular Front government headed by Léon
Blum was in power for barely over a year, it introduced long-lasting social legislation
and the era was marked by an unusual level of commitment by prominent intellectual
and artistic figures – including Renoir.

Baecque, Antoine de and Toubiana, Serge (1999) François Truffaut, trans. Catherine
Temerson. New York: Knopf (English translation of François Truffaut, Paris: Gallimard,
Bazin, André (1992) Jean Renoir, trans. W. W. Halsey II and William H. Simon. New York:
Da Capo (English translation of Jean Renoir, Paris: Champ libre, 1971).
Benoliel, Bernard and Orléan, Matthieu (eds) (2005) Renoir/Renoir. Paris: Éditions de La
Martinière, Cinémathèque française.
Renoir, Jean (1977 [1938]) “Démission ou continuation de la France: la France a-t-elle une
mission?” Cahiers de la jeunesse 12 ( July 15, 1938). Repr. in Revue du cinéma/Image et son
315: 20.
Renoir, Jean (2001) Renoir, My Father, trans. Randolph Weaver and Dorothy Weaver. New
York: New York Review of Books (English translation of Renoir, Paris: Hachette,


Renoir in Close-Up

Section 1

Reassessing Renoir’s Aesthetics

Section 2

Critical Focus on Selected Films

Section 1

Reassessing Renoir’s Aesthetics


Shooting in Deep Time
The Mise en Scène of History
in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s
Martin O’Shaughnessy

Opening Shots: Approaching Renoir’s Style
At the start of Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932), immediately after the short, deliberately
theatrical preface, there is a typical Renoir opening shot. It begins by fading into a
close-up of a bust of Voltaire, the famous Enlightenment freethinker. It then tracks
backwards and tilts down to reveal part of the bookshop within which the bust is
located before tracking laterally and panning to open up the rest of the space and
to reveal Monsieur Lestingois (Charles Granval), the bookshop owner, and his
maid, Anne-Marie (Séverine Lerczinska), in each other’s arms on the other side of
the shop. Renoir’s La Grande Illusion (1937) also begins with a shot that moves out
from a close-up to introduce characters in their socio-spatial context. This time the
opening close-up is of a gramophone turntable flanked by two hands. The camera
tilts up and pauses on the face of the hero, World War I pilot, Maréchal ( Jean
Gabin) as he sings along with the record, and then pans right and tracks a short
distance laterally to open up the space of the flyers’ hut with its casually arranged
tables, relaxing, card-playing airmen, and its bar. As the hero returns left, he is
allowed to exit the shot as the camera pauses to pick up his squadron leader entering the room from the other side. It then reverses its initial track and pan to follow
the squadron leader back to Maréchal behind the gramophone before tracking the
other way and panning again to watch the pair as they head out of the hut. The
two shots share their camera mobility (the combination of track, tilt, and pan),
although, with its toing and froing, that of La Grande Illusion is more complex and,
at nearly a minute, considerably longer than the Boudu sauvé des eaux shot, still

A Companion to Jean Renoir, First Edition. Edited by Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau.
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2013 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Mise en Scène of History in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s


quite long at about 17 seconds. The shots are also joined by the way they open a
scene with a close-up of an object that colors our appreciation of what follows: the
bust of Voltaire in Boudu sauvé des eaux points to the freethinking character and
enlightened bourgeois status of Lestingois, while the gramophone in La Grande
Illusion underscores the essentially peaceful nature of the French flyers’ hut. The
shots remind us of the director’s refusal to separate characters from their social
and spatial contexts, one tying Lestingois to his bookshop and the other Maréchal
to a context of popular leisure and culture.
We can clearly approach the shots in different ways. We can compare them to
classical norms as a way of bringing out the specificity of Renoir’s style but at the
risk of fetishizing his auteur signature by seeking his difference from others and not
his similarities to them. Or, we can compare the shots to each other in an attempt to
demonstrate continuities and changes in Renoir’s style. We will begin with the former approach. In some ways, the two shots seem to do some of the same work as
more conventional and more static establishing shots by presenting the space of the
action and locating characters within a broader context. Yet they are also different in
important ways for they suggest a different relationship between the camera and the
space. While the traditional establishing shot already knows the space it shows and
offers a position of totalizing mastery, the Renoir shots only progressively discover
the space, suggesting a reality that is not simply there for the camera, but which it
must explore. Conventionally, establishing shots are followed by a move to analytical
editing. There are moments in the shot from La Grande Illusion where such a transition is knowingly avoided. When Maréchal looks right and speaks to someone off
screen, for example, there is no cut on a look. When he talks with his superior, there
is no transition to shot–reverse shot. Conventional analytical editing combines
apparently objective shots with shots that draw us into the film by aligning us with
characters’ points of view. Renoir’s mobile establishing shots are never as distant
and never as involved: they achieve what one might call a proximate distance or
what Gilberto Perez calls “a sympathy combined with detachment” (1998: 220).
This kind of comparative analysis is undoubtedly very fruitful as long as we
remember that Renoir’s avoidance of classical norms is not absolute. As Kristin
Thompson reminds us, there are sequences in Renoir films like La Règle du jeu (1939)
where shot–reverse shot or point of view shots can be found. It is not that Renoir’s
films simply eschew dominant patterns: it is rather than they use them selectively
and in a context where they are not the norm. Rather than being a neutral baseline,
practices like shot–reverse shot become accented and expressive stylistic choices
(Thompson 1988: 218–244; see also O’Shaughnessy 2009: 59–71). If, as Thompson
suggests, the specificity of Renoir’s style lies in the complex interrelationship
between shots rather than in any particular type of shot taken separately, his films
may prove recalcitrant to the kind of statistical analysis, deployed by scholars such
as Barry Salt, that compares shot lengths, camera distance, and camera mobility
between films and between directors (Salt 1983: 243–255). However, even if one
remains at the level of the individual shot as unit of analysis, the opening shots from


Martin O’Shaughnessy

Boudu sauvé des eaux and La Grande Illusion discussed above clearly need to be
appreciated in terms of the relationship between shot length, camera use, and
staging if one is to begin to understand their stylistic choices with some precision.
If we now move to comparing the two shots, we might note that, besides its
greater length and more complex camera and figure movement, the La Grande
Illusion shot is also different in another significant but more elusive way that is connected to the historicity that makes itself felt within it. The shot hovers, one might
say, between the war and the prewar period. Through its evocation of peacetime
sociability (the gramophone, the card playing, the popular relaxation) and its implicit
nostalgia, it seems to look back to a period before the conflict. Through the presence
of uniformed airmen, it reminds us of the war. As Maréchal is tracked back and forth
in his movements across the room, as he shifts between heading away from the conflict to see Joséphine, the woman he hopes to visit, and back into it to fly a mission,
he is literally poised between two different times. His final exit from the shot toward
the mission that will see him shot down and captured is an irrevocable passage into
history. There is a temporality that we do not find in the shot from Boudu sauvé des
eaux which is of a stable bourgeois environment that will be severely disrupted in the
course of the film but to which the characters can always ultimately return. It is this
entry of history into Renoir’s style that will form the main focus of this chapter.
Another shot from Boudu sauvé des eaux, from just under 37 minutes into the film
might also be seen as a signature Renoir shot. It begins by showing the Lestingois

Figure 1.1 The Lestingois couple (Charles Granval and Marcelle Hainia) and Boudu
(Michel Simon) seated round the table in Boudu sauvé des eaux (Production: Société Sirius
(Michel Simon)).

Mise en Scène of History in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s


couple and Boudu (Michel Simon) seated round the table as Anne-Marie waits
upon them. Rather than occupying the same space as the characters, the camera
shows them in long shot, two rooms away, through two door frames, the intervening empty space being lined by books, a piano, and upholstered furniture. When
Anne-Marie leaves the shot on the left, the camera tracks laterally to follow her
movement, catching her as she traverses the far end of a long corridor and picking
her up again as she enters the kitchen, a space this time framed by two windows.
Finally, as she comes forward toward the kitchen window, the camera similarly
tracks forward to the opposite window, looking at her across the empty space of
the courtyard. In some ways, this shot underlines what we have already seen, the
location of characters within a broader spatial and social context. It also reminds
us of the importance of one of the most famous features of Renoir’s mise en scène
in the 1930s, his staging of action in depth, a formal choice often combined with
camera mobility.1 The use of frames within the frame is a recurrent feature of this
kind of staging within his films. Sesonske, one of the foremost analysts of Renoir’s
style, notes, for example, that of the about 200 shots in Madame Bovary (1934) that
are not rural exteriors, 40 or so are filmed through some kind of aperture (Sesonske
1980: 156). In Madame Bovary these kinds of shots tend to underscore both the
heroine’s entrapment in her rural, bourgeois lifestyle and her theatrical mise en
scène of herself. Less implicitly claustrophobic, the shot we have looked at in Boudu
sauvé des eaux nevertheless underscores the rigidities of bourgeois life as well as
that class’s self-conscious self-presentation.
There are so many shots in La Règle du jeu that deploy similar compositional strategies that it hardly seems to make sense to isolate one. There is nonetheless one I
will examine because of its relevance to the main thrust of my argument. It comes
during the famed concert party sequence as the chaos builds and the bourgeois collective brought together for the concert dissolves into chaos and individuals and
couples pursue their own aims. It begins just under one hour and four minutes into
the film when Octave, played by Renoir himself, enters the chateau gun room in the
bear costume he has put on for the entertainment. As he walks forward toward the
camera, moving from long to medium shot in the process, we see, past his body and
through two door frames, both the receding backs of the jealous gamekeeper
Schumacher (Gaston Modot) and his flighty wife, Lisette (Paulette Dubost), and
figures dressed as ghosts that have descended from the concert stage to move
among the audience. At the same time, Monsieur de Saint-Aubin (Pierre Nay), who
is attempting to seduce Christine (Nora Grégor), the wife of the host, moves past
him to close the door, briefly creating a third plane of action between him and the
ghostly figures. Briefly, because, tracking back a little, the camera pans sharply left
through about 90 degrees, past a range of hunting trophies, to open up another line
of vision and to reveal Christine, hiding behind a cabinet. Octave spins around too
late to see Christine and is followed by the tracking, panning camera as he opens the
door at the back of the room and begins to exit into a corridor, as another space
opens before us. The shot is like and unlike the shot from Boudu sauvé des eaux.


Martin O’Shaughnessy

It resembles it in its depth staging, its use of intervening frames, and its determination to locate individual actions in social contexts. It differs in at least two important
ways. First, it has much greater social density. This shows itself in its staging across
different planes, its criss-crossing character movements, its multiple, interconnected
actions, its shifting centers of attention and the presence in its background of a
social collective, albeit a disintegrating one. With its connecting corridors, its large
shared spaces, its multiple entry and exit points, the set of La Règle du jeu allows for
the repeated mise en scène of assembly and disintegration. Second, there is a historicity to the shot in La Règle du jeu that is not present in Boudu sauvé des eaux but which
echoes that found in La Grande Illusion. It is signaled most obviously by the presence
of the ghostly figures moving among the background crowd: death, the coming
war, stalks a society unable or unwilling to see or to face the threat. But death is also
present in the shape of all the hunting trophies around the walls. Part of the film’s
internal memory and foresight, the trophies and soon to be scattered stuffed birds
look back to the celebrated hunting sequence, with its implicit reference to the
slaughter that has been (World War I) and the one to come.

The Mise en Scène of History and the Need to See in Depth
There is a temptation, when examining a film’s handling of time, to simply look at
how narrative organization handles story time. In the case of La Règle du jeu, this
might involve an analysis of how a few weeks are condensed into a little under two
hours. But such an approach, no matter how valuable, would neglect the way in
which mise en scène and other elements of the film, including of course dialogue, are
used to inscribe the film’s events into a much longer-term unfolding. Although the
film foregrounds the modern technologies of the radio and the airplane in its nocturnal opening sequence, it quickly introduces a much older technology in the
shape of the clockwork automata collected by Robert de La Chesnaye (Marcel
Dalio), Christine’s husband. Not only are these latter objects strongly associated
with the eighteenth century, and thus a time period before the French Revolution,
but they would seem to promise the mechanical reproduction of the familiar. Mise
en scène is thus used to express the tension between change and repetition and
between modernity and tradition. The sense that Renoir is inviting us to locate
unfolding events within a broader historical unfolding is underscored when all the
protagonists adjourn to Robert’s seventeenth-century hunting chateau. The chateau is, of course, the icon par excellence of the old aristocratic order. With its
hierarchical upstairs–downstairs organization and its Watteau murals (Lourié 1985:
61–66), it would seem to promise the possibility of a flight into an older, more stable
social order. The chronological depth built into the props and decor of the film thus
invites us to read its mise en scène historically and not simply socially. The shot we
have been looking at is more complex than anything in Boudu sauvé des eaux, not

Mise en Scène of History in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s


simply because of its more complicated staging but also because of its composition
in deep time. When its camera mobility, figure movement, and depth staging are
used to show and track chaos and disintegration, it is implicitly underscoring the
impossibility of any restoration of an orderly, hierarchical society.
Because it is composed in deep time and deals with collective dangers, the film
calls for a type of spectatorial awareness that its frivolous, self-centered characters
cannot deploy. If they perceive threats at all, they perceive them belatedly. In the
shot we have been discussing, Octave not only turns too late to see Christine, but he
also seems blind to the presence, at the back of the shot, of the fascistic Schumacher
and the dancing phantoms, and the danger they figure. While the shot demands a
reading in terms of a historically threatened collective, the character is only attentive to the personal and to the immediate. If La Règle du jeu is a film composed in
deep time, it is also one about shallow, inadequate seeing. There is a celebrated
shot earlier in the film when, borrowing a hunter’s spyglass, Christine inadvertently catches her husband in the arms of his lover, Geneviève (Mila Parély) and
assumes that the couple are having an affair, whereas the affair is over and this is a
farewell kiss. Jefferson Kline suggests that this shot can be seen as providing an
implicit defense of Renoir’s mise en scène: had Christine had access to the kind of
contextualization provided by depth of field, she would not have made the mistake
(2010: 42–44). Is not the crucial point that the problem with Christine’s perception
is its belatedness, that she realizes too late that her husband has betrayed her? The
same faulty and tardy perception characterizes the crowd at the concert party.
When Schumacher moves among the assembled guests with a loaded weapon,
they either fail to see the danger or see it belatedly. The film asks for a breadth and
chronological depth of vision that its characters do not possess. For André Bazin,
one of the key advantages of depth staging was its capacity to restore the kind of
ambiguity to the image that editing and shallow focus cinematography denied by
corralling the spectator’s attention (1990: 163–165). What is perhaps more interesting in the case of La Règle du jeu is the way in which depth staging and camera
mobility repeatedly invite the spectator to see more than the characters, thus
stressing the fatal spatiotemporal limitations of their vision.

From Bazin to Deleuze
Some of the classic statements on Renoir’s 1930s style are those that come from
Bazin, either in his posthumously published Jean Renoir or in the classic texts gathered in Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? In “L’évolution du langage cinématographique,” an
essay from the latter, he accords Renoir a special place as the prewar precursor of the
key post-1940 developments in film style represented by Welles’s and Wyler’s deep
focus, long-take cinematography and by Italian neorealism’s rejection of the effects
of editing and search for an unpredigested real (Bazin 1990: 73–78). In the former he


Martin O’Shaughnessy

underscores Renoir’s visionary status by suggesting that he understood better than
anyone else that the screen is best understood neither as a painterly frame nor a theatrical proscenium arch but as a cache, not something that reveals reality, but which
hides it, so that what is unseen is as important as what is visible. A natural complement to Renoir’s depth staging and its capacity to locate actions in their context, the
lateral mobility that is so characteristic of his camera constantly reminds us that the
world continues to exist on either side of the frame, that what we are seeing is part
of something larger that is hidden from us. In contrast, in an editing-driven style,
where each shot is conceived as a separate, independently lit and staged unit, there is
no sense of the essential continuity of the world and there is literally nothing to hide.
When a character enters the frame, because there is no sense of a reality beyond it,
it is as if they are coming from the wings (Bazin 1989: 80–84).
If Bazin’s writings are driven by an ontological understanding of realism, a
sense that the virtue of Renoir’s cinema is to respect the underlying interdependence of the real, Christopher Faulkner’s classic analysis locates the director’s films
within a critical social realism. Looking at Toni (1935), Faulkner suggests that most
critics have privileged the film’s temporal narrative and passionate individual trajectories at the expense of its social density. He locates the latter principally in the
spatiality of the film’s shots and notably in the capacity of composition in depth,
lateral camera mobility, and complex staging to locate individual actions in the
contexts that explain them. He takes as an example a shot where Toni (Charles
Blavette), the film’s eponymous hero, explains to a workmate his desire to marry
Josefa (Celia Montalvan), a peasant farmer’s daughter, and to start to grow his own
wine. As Toni speaks, depth staging allows us to see his fellow workers laboring in
the quarry behind and below him. The meaning of the shot is generated neither
from Toni’s words nor from the image separately, but from the confluence of the
two: his desire to become an autonomous wine producer makes sense in the context of his proletarian condition. The shot does not simply passively record the
real, it actively analyzes it to reveal its class dimension (Faulkner 1986: 48–51). In a
similar way, the systematic depth staging and mobile camera of Le Crime de
Monsieur Lange (1936) socialize the space of the film’s unfolding, linking individuals and their trajectories to a context of class relations (Faulkner 1986: 60–65).
Bazin’s analysis of Renoir’s style is, as one would expect, full of brilliant insights.
Faulkner’s helps correct its neglect of the politics of style. But both tend to bypass
the way in which the films of the later 1930s are inhabited by history. In his Jean
Renoir, Bazin gathers together the director’s prewar films under the heading “Renoir
français,” a grouping that smooths out differences between the films that preceded
and those that came after 1935, the year when Renoir aligned himself with the
Popular Front. In Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? his focus is on film history in a narrow sense
and not on any broader encounter between it and wider histories. Faulkner rightly
reasserts the social dimension of Renoir’s work but ties Renoir’s socialization of
screen space to the spatial dimension of the shot, effectively relegating historicity to
the narrative and neglecting what one might call the mise en scène of history.

Mise en Scène of History in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s


Deleuze’s great work on cinema provides a partial corrective to this neglect (see
Deleuze 1985). It gives time a central place in its architecture and thus can generate
important general insights into how temporality is inscribed in Renoir’s mise en
scène, but it is insufficiently attentive to concrete historical contexts to allow for
more detailed analysis of the historicity of the director’s image. Deleuze devotes
important pages to Renoir’s work in his discussion of what he calls the “crystal
image.” He starts from the observation that cinema has always sought to place a
world around its images by tying images of the present to memory images, dream
images, and what he calls “world” images. He then suggests that, rather than
building outward from the image in this way, cinema can move in the opposite
direction, so that the real and the virtual, the past and the present are brought
together within a single image, the crystal image. The crystal is essentially constituted, as Deleuze sees it, by the most fundamental operation of time. Time
involves a constant splitting of the present, a fissuring of it into two opposing
streams, one that launches itself into the future, the other which falls into the past.
The crystal image is one that figures this fissuring, holding the actual and the virtual in tension. What above all constitutes the crystal in Renoir’s work is the use of
depth of field which, in La Règle du jeu, for example, allows for a concatenation of
frames within the frame and a system of rhymes between masters and servants,
living people and clockwork figures, reality and theater that brings the actual and
the virtual together within the shot. The image thus captures the fissuring of time.
All that is fixed or frozen, the ensemble of ready-made, conformist roles is trapped
in the crystal, from which new presents may emerge, bringing the future into
being. The theatricality associated with so many of Renoir’s films is essential to
the crystal’s functioning for it allows characters to try on new roles until the right
one is found to enter into a new real. Thus, in films as diverse as Boudu sauvé des
eaux, The River (1951), or Le Carrosse d’or (1953), characters are able to cast off
ready-made, worn-out roles and liberate themselves from dead forms. The same
theatricality is present in La Règle du jeu, but the film is atypical because of its pessimism and the failure of renewal it figures whereby even agents of apparent transformation like airman André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) remain trapped in the
crystal, caught by inert conventions (Deleuze 1985: 92–117).
Deleuze’s insights into Renoir’s work are brilliant and frustrating in fairly equal
measure. Not only do they point to how temporality may be inscribed in the shot,
but they also imply that it may emerge, not from any one element in isolation, but
from a combination of elements. We have noted how the crystal’s capacity to hold
different possibilities in tension can most obviously be connected to depth staging
and the way it lends itself to complex compositions. Yet, the capacity of characters
to enter and leave the crystal, to try on new roles and cast off old ones also points
to how figure movement, costume, and decor (elements which we will draw upon
later) may give temporal depth to the image. It is, of course, dangerous to read
Deleuze too literally. His insights into the functioning of Renoir’s films tend to
conflate the specific and the general, the concrete and the metaphoric. He makes


Martin O’Shaughnessy

depth staging stand in for Renoir’s compositional style as a whole, without discussion of other important elements such as lateral camera mobility. Moreover, his
analysis seems to refer both to real shots and to a broader, more diffuse sense of
how the films frame temporality. Yet, despite these difficulties, his work does show
how we might approach the temporal dimension of Renoir’s mise en scène.
Ultimately, the more crucial problem with Deleuze’s analysis is his failure to pay
real attention to the relationship between the director’s films and history despite
the central role he allocates to time. It is this inattention to history and the concrete struggles that characterize it that allows him to reduce the shifting politics of
Renoir’s films to a general awareness within the director’s work of the identity
between liberty and the collective or individual opening onto the future that comes
with an escape from the crystal. In the process, any sense of the specific historicity
of his later 1930s film is blurred. Both the pre-Popular Front Boudu sauvé des eaux
and the Frontist Le Crime de Monsieur Lange end with characters breaking out of a
situation or social frame, or escaping from the crystal as Deleuze would put it, but
Boudu’s escape from bourgeois respectability is hardly equivalent to Lange’s flight
from justice after he has murdered his boss to defend a workers’ cooperative. The
contrast between the two films’ mise en scène of history needs to be taken further.

Embedded Framings, Shifting Frames
One way to approach the way that Renoir’s films open themselves up (or not) to
history is to focus on the frames within the frame that depth composition so frequently produces. There is a beautiful long take in Boudu sauvé des eaux where,
making full use of depth staging and the connectivity of the film’s set, the camera
captures an interaction between Boudu and Anne-Marie. As the shot begins, and
with the kind of dynamic staging and figure movement that so marks Renoir’s
films of the period, Boudu enters the foreground of the image from off screen left
while Anne-Marie advances from the kitchen area in the back of the shot, crosses
the intervening corridor and enters the dining room where Boudu is to be found,
even as the ever mobile tramp moves into the middle ground of the image before
stopping in the kitchen doorway. Anne-Marie retraces her steps toward the kitchen,
only to find herself pinned by Boudu as he swings from the door frame. She breaks
free and enters the kitchen. Boudu then presses his back against one side of the
door frame and his legs against the other, blocking the door and suspending himself above the ground. Although he asserts his nonconformism (and masculine
physicality) by defying the normal rules of domestic space, he is doubly held, not
simply by the kitchen door frame, but also by the wider frame of the double doors
of the dining room. The shot can be seen as condensing much of the dynamics of
a film whose core lies in a collision between social convention and asocial “nature”
as played out over Boudu’s disorderly body and the bourgeois interior of the
Lestingois house. Boudu can challenge the frame by scattering objects and dirtying

Mise en Scène of History in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s


the clean even as the frame seeks to capture him, but the collision is essentially a
static one. When he upends the boat carrying his marriage party, floats away, and
re-dons a tramp costume stolen from a scarecrow, he is returning to an earlier asocial state, not changing society or moving history on.
There is also a moment where a physical and metaphorical frame is directly
challenged in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange. It comes after the corrupt boss, Batala
( Jules Berry), has fled the scene and the workers have decided to form a cooperative with the consent of young Monsieur Meunier (Henri Guisol) the son of the
company’s principal creditor. One of the film’s mobile, virtuoso long shots sets
things in motion. This celebrated shot begins by framing the advertising panel that
Batala has placed over the window of young Charles (Maurice Baquet), the printworks’ delivery “boy” as first Lange (René Lefèvre) and then the concierge (Marcel
Levesque) enter the shot. Leaving the pair, it cranes diagonally up and pans right
to show two groups of workers leaning out of the printworks’ first-floor windows,
watching events below, before tracking back left to show another set of workers at
another window. It then cranes down and tracks back as first young Monsieur
Meunier and then workers and other people enter an increasingly crowded shot.
Finally, there is a cut to a camera position inside Charles’s room, looking toward
the window as the advertising panel is removed, revealing the watching group,
some of the courtyard, and the doorway of the laundry business where Charles’s
girlfriend, Estelle (Nadia Sibirskaïa), works. Several sets of hands come together to
lift Estelle through the laundry door and propel her toward Charles.

Figure 1.2 Inside Charles’s (Maurice Baquet) room in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange
(Production: Obéron (André Halley des Fontaines)).


Martin O’Shaughnessy

Clearly, some of what we see in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange echoes what we have
seen in Boudu sauvé des eaux, notably in the way the second shot shows the same fondness for composition in depth and for frames within frames (the laundry door caught
through Charles’s window) in the shot. But there is also something radically different
going on. The frame itself is no longer immutable in either its physical or its symbolic
dimensions but, becoming an object of dispute between the workers and their boss,
it is opened up to collective intervention. History enters the frame, one might say, as
the frame enters history. At the same time, the workers enter Renoir’s cinema, not as
an explanatory part of the social context, as in the shot from Toni so perceptively
analyzed by Faulkner (see above), but as a collective, transformative actor. The first
of the two shots from Lange shows this well. As the camera cranes and pans to join
Lange to the workers at the windows, and each cluster of workers to the next, it
effects a bringing together that testifies to an emergent solidarity. A Bazinian understanding of the shot might emphasize how it underscored the ontological unity of
the real by refusing the fragmentation implied by editing. A more political reading
would note how, rather than simply exploring something that already existed, it was
registering the movement of history, an emergence of the new in the midst of the old
that demanded contextualization in the sociopolitical struggles of the Popular Front
era. If one looked at the shot from a purely formal perspective, one might emphasize
the elegance of the arabesque performed by the mobile camera. Yet, its complexity,
the way it moves laterally and vertically to connect worker to intellectual and group
to group, has its roots in the entry of the collective into the space of the action.
This capacity of the mobile camera to register the collective nature of action
and to participate in the emergence of a group protagonist makes itself repeatedly
felt in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, La Grande Illusion, and La Marseillaise (1938). In
the latter film, there is a nearly two-minute long, virtuoso crane shot which shows
the collective singing of the Marseillaise which provides a perfect example. It
begins by tracking forward to foreground a group of children high in the branches
of a tree where a banner hangs honoring the Marseilles volunteers leaving for
Paris. It leaves the children, cranes down and left to pick out a woman in the crowd
giving a drink to soldiers around her. It continues leftward, bringing the woman
into close-up even as it moves past her, showing other faces in the crowd, pausing
to show a volunteer as he kisses several women, then moving on to find the soloist
who is leading the singing of the anthem. Tracking past him, it moves on to pick
out Bomier (Edmond Ardisson), one of the film’s heroes, as his mother helps him
with his pack, then sinks to her knees in prayer. Moving still further left, it shows
other leading characters as they stand to attention and sing, even as more women
fall to their knees. Then it reverses direction and tracks back right as the crowd join
in a final enthusiastic chorus. Again it finds Bomier, previously skeptical about the
song, now singing at the top of his lungs beside his mother. Finally, it remains still
as the people themselves begin to move, the volunteers and some women exiting
the shot to the right, other women turning their backs to camera to watch them
go, Bomier’s mother remaining stationary, supported by her housemaid. As the

Mise en Scène of History in Renoir’s Films of the 1930s


Figure 1.3 Bomier (Edmond Ardisson) and his mother (Marthe Marty) in La Marseillaise
(Production: CGT (Conféderation générale du travail), Société de production et
d’exploitation du film La Marseillaise).

shot fades out, another shot fades in, this one with a static camera showing the
volunteers marching from back of shot, forward, and past the lens. For the few
seconds of the fade, it is as if the marching men were walking through and past the
stationary body of Bomier’s mother.
When we examine this virtuoso shot, we might be struck by how its length
(almost two minutes) and complex camera movement allow the whole sequence of
the group farewell to be encapsulated in a single shot. Probing further, we might
note how, by refusing the fragmentation associated with analytical editing, it ties
individuals and small groups to a larger context, with the mobility of the camera
allowing it to move close to individual emotions without ever allowing this proximity to detach the personal from the collective, as a more traditional close or medium
shot might. Yet to do the shot full justice one would need to consider it dynamically
and not statically. It is discovering the collective just as the collective discovers itself
as a dynamic force. It is not simply noting that the personal is articulated within
something larger; it is registering the transformation of the framework within which
lives are led as they open onto history. The way the camera pauses on individual
interactions before moving on makes tangible how these frames are expanding. The
shot in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange where the advertising hoarding is removed and
Charles reconnected with Estelle by the collective showed a similar reframing
whereby the private and personal were opened onto the collective and the love story
was reworked by a progressive politics. The difference, in the case of La Marseillaise,
is that a whole people are taking note of their power. No mere stylistic flourish,


Martin O’Shaughnessy

the length and mobility of the shot are directly linked to the need to track the
dimensions of this emergent historical actor. The historicity of the shot is underscored
by the cl