Susan Granger’s review of “Renoir” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Set on the French Riviera in the summer of 1915, Gallic Gilles Bourdos’ domestic drama revolves around the renowned impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), an ailing widower at age 74, and his middle son, 21 year-old Jean (Vincent Rottiers), who returns to the family estate at Cagnes-sur-Mer on crutches to convalesce after being wounded in World War I.
The arrival of a radiant, free-spirited teenager, Andree Heuschling (Cesar-nominated newcomer Crista Theret), invigorates the elder Renoir and intoxicates young Jean, who is in his formative years and destined to make acclaimed films like “Grand Illusion” and “Rules of the Game.” As the observational story evolves, beautiful Andree – with flame-colored hair and porcelain skin that “soaks up light” – becomes the father’s last model and the son’s first wife.
Based on a novelized biography by Jacques Renoir (the great-grandson of Pierre-Auguste and the grandson of Jean’s actor brother, Pierre), it’s respectfully co-written by Jerome Tonnerre (“The Women on the 6th Floor”) and director Gilles Bourdos (“Afterwards”). Exquisitely photographed by Taiwanese-born cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee, it’s punctuated with lyrical music by composer Alexandre Desplat.
Although they look remarkably authentic, the 73 Renoir paintings shown are by the convicted French art forger Guy Ribes. A colorful, controversial character in his own right, Guy Ribes was born in a brothel to a prostitute mother and gangster father. After serving in the French Foreign Legion, Ribes sold his stylish simulations of famous masters to a criminal cartel who passed them off as genuine. Sentenced to three years in prison, Ribes was released in December, 2010, and was then hired by Gilles Bourdos in May, 2011, to create the art work for this film and allowed to study the Musee d’Orsay’s extensive Renoir collection to perfect his technique. And when the camera focuses on the elder Renoir’s bandaged, arthritic hand apply paint to canvas, it’s actually Ribes’ hand.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Renoir” is a sensual, sophisticated, visually sumptuous 7 – that should particularly appeal to an older audience of art-lovers.