In 1915, aged 74, celebrated Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), is living on the French Rivera in declining health. His middle son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), returns home to recover after being wounded in World War I. The elder Renoir is filled with a new, wholly unexpected energy when a young girl miraculously enters his world. Blazing with life, the radiantly beautiful Andrée (Christa Theret) will become his last model, and the wellspring of a remarkable rejuvenation. Jean also falls under the spell of the free-spirited young Andrée. Their beautiful home and majestic countryside grounds reverberate with familial intrigue, as both Renoirs become smitten with the enchanting and headstrong young muse.
Review by Louise Keller:
The ambience and exquisite imagery, depicting the impressionist palette of Renoir offers a bewitching snapshot of the ageing artist's life, although director Gilles Bourdos's vision and veteran Taiwanese cinematographer Ping Bin Lee superb cinematography alone do not satisfy in this drawn out and often frustrating drama. Like Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) in which the story revolves around Scarlett Johansson's young peasant girl who becomes the muse to Colin Firth's Johannes Vermeer, Bourdos's film concentrates on the arrival in the summer of 1915 of Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret), the muse and inspiration to the arthritic-ridden, elderly artist.
We first meet Andrée, a vision of vermillion, riding a bicycle along a picturesque road in the south of France. Beyond the gate at which she stops is a garden filled with gnarled tree trunks and leaves that rustle and whisper in the breeze as she walks to the house. Show me your hands, says Pierre-August Renoir on their meeting and he nods approvingly. It is his canvasses that reap the most benefit from Andrée's arrival; Renoir is clearly inspired by the iridescent glow and velvet texture of the young girl's porcelain skin as she spends her days reclining naked for the artist's brush. Michel Bouquet delivers a wonderful performance in the title role.
We get a clear sense of the ambience of the Renoir household - the devoted maids who bathe and strap his arthritic hands and carry the wheel-chair bound artist to various locations to paint. It is a revolving household of maids who become models and models who become maids. Renoir's youngest son Coco (Thomas Doret) is a sullen, withdrawn and lonely child who collects insects. Andrée's budding relationship with Renoir's middle son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) who returns wounded from the war is one of the main story strands and the fact that the titan-haired, curvaceous beauty is a brattish, rather unlikeable character, does nothing to endear us to her. Theret looks stunning and the camera loves every curve of her body.
The settings are gorgeous and the blue Mediterranean has never looked more cobalt. The picnic and luncheon scenes depicting Renoir's famous works are filled with charm; I love the moment when a gust of wind blows parasols, picnic rugs and hats and Renoir says: 'Merde; isn't that beautiful?' The blurring of out of focus imagery beautifully mirrors the brush strokes on the canvas. The portrait with which we are presented with depict an artist who is never grumpy when working and whose philosophy is to 'go with the flow', like a cork in a current.
The soft Mediterranean light and the beautiful way in which the film is shot is certainly its strength. It is a pity that its tempo and story structure is not more engaging.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Michel Bouquet's wonderful characterisation of Auguste Renoir remains the shining achievement of this delicate, reverential and sometimes gobsmackingly beautiful film. The point about the beauty that is captured on film - in the not too ugly part of the world, the Cote d'Azure - is that it reminds us of the remarkable light as well as the eye pleasing flora. As for the fauna, it has breasts; it's not just his final muse, Andrée (Christa Theret) that attracts Renoir's eye, all young women's flesh does as he explains. He adores the texture of their skin. There is sensuality but no crass leering here, no dirty old man behaviour. Renoir is painted as an artist above all, a sincere and wise one.
Performances are all terrific, but the painstakingly told development of the family's inner workings when Renoir's middle son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) returns wounded from the war, drag the film into ennui. As languid as the summer afternoon sunshine that encourages a lazy nap, the film relies on the dynamics of Andrée as a catalyst for tensions to erupt. But there are errors of judgement and too much reverence to make the film feel insightful.
Andrée's angry outburst in the kitchen one afternoon among the maids, smashing plates the young Renoir had once painted by hand, is quite ridiculous and is sandwiched between scenes that make it appear as it comes from a different movie. That aside, Christa Theret is lovely and utterly convincing as the beautifully breasted Andrée, and a striking contrast with the ugly deformities of poor old Renoir's arthritic hands, which feature quite a lot. If you want to read something ironically significant into that, you can. For me it's just how nature is; it has no feelings.
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CAST: Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Rottiers, Thomas Doret, Romane Bohnringer, Michele Gleizer,
PRODUCER: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
DIRECTOR: Gilles Bourdos
SCRIPT: Gilles Bourdos (based on work by Jacques Renoir)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mark Ping Bing Lee
EDITOR: Yannick Kergoat
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Benoit Barouin
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 24, 2013