Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
French writer-director Gilles Bourdos brings to the screen a drama based on the little known story of Andree Heuschling, a young woman who became the last model to work for the classic impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. When the artist’s son, Jean Renoir, returned from World War I, he began a relationship with his father’s model. The film explores Pierre-Auguste’s later stage in life, as rheumatoid arthritis begins to affect his ability to work, and it also explores the early life of Jean – before he became the classic filmmaker – as a young man attempting to find himself.
Arguably one of the finest looking films of the year, Renoir’s beautifully filmed shots are a visual treat. Classical and elegant, the film clearly benefits from the cinematography of Ping Bin Lee (In the Mood for Love). The locations, the overall design, and the film’s suitably artistic and liberal sensibilities towards female nudity, all combine to make this look like a sure-win for art-house connoisseurs. Unfortunately, even Alexandre Desplat’s wonderful score can’t bring a level of depth to this.
Andree Heuschling’s character seems to be explored the best. Christa Theret gives a great performance as this strong-willed young woman who seems to be struggling to find her identity. Heuschling affects both Renoir junior and senior, but we are barely given an insight into the internal workings of these two men. The fact that Jean will eventually become a landmark filmmaker, responsible for films such as Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939), is only glossed over. It isn’t necessarily a fault to look past certain historical moments in real-life films, but it becomes quite frustrating when the film seems content to instead meander on lite observations.
There’s an abundance of lives and history to be explored within this family and this time period, but Renoir ultimately fails to shed a light on anything in particular. The film ends up plodding along, unable to provide a dramatic moment to cash in on the beauty on display. It’s unfortunate, but an air of boredom begins to creep in as the film progresses. The expected postscript at the end of the film describes how life unfolded for Jean and Andree – if only the filmmakers tackled this storyline instead. A beautifully filmed, wasted opportunity.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10