PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'Renoir' Is Beautiful but so Uninteresting It's Like Watching Paint Dry

Everything in this film is right there on the surface for us to see. Nothing is left to the imagination.


Director: Gilles Bourdos
Cast: Vincent Rottiers, Christa Theret, Michel Bouquet
Distributor: Cinedigm
Rated: R
Release date: 2013-11-05

Catherine Hessling was born Andrée Madeleine Heuschling in the north-eastern department of Marne, in France. During the outbreak of World War I she sought refuge in the region of Nice, where due to her astonishing good looks she caught the attention of Henri Matisse who immediately thought of her as a “Renoir beauty” and sent her to pose for his friend Pierre-Auguste, who had moved to the Côte d'Azur years before to try and improve his health.

Throughout the years, the young woman would serve as model for some of Renoir’s most breathtaking latter work, including “Blonde a la rose” from 1917 and would then become the first wife of his son Jean, who would go on to become one of the most influential filmmakers of the twentieth century. There was undoubtedly something special about this woman, but what that was goes completely amiss in Gilles Bourdos’ Renoir.

When we first meet Andrée (Christa Theret) she is walking towards Renoir’s estate full of determination and purpose. She knocks at the door and announces she was sent by Mrs. Renoir to pose for her husband. The servants find this strange but the painter (played by Michel Bouquet) receives her warmly and after examining her in a short interview he tells her that his wife has been dead for years. The young woman doesn’t change her attitude and somehow it seems that she has enchanted the artist who asks her to come back and pose for him some other time. He gives her five francs for her trouble and as she walks out the door she tells him she is used to receiving ten.

Upon her return she disrobes and seemingly bothered by the fact that Renoir isn’t admiring her beauty more, she asks if he is uncomfortable, to which he replies that if he was, he’d stick to painting apples. “What I like is the skin, the velvety skin of a young girl” he says without taking his eye away from the canvas and we see how effortlessly he sketches and then paints her. Famous forger Guy Ribes was hired to recreate the paintings onscreen and in a way his very presence sums up the fact that this film is all about reverential artifice.

As the young woman continues posing for Renoir, we see how he is affected by her presence, but we only know this because we are told about it in strange dream sequences in which he talks to his dead wife. Everything is right there on the surface for us to see, there is nothing left to the imagination and as such the film doesn’t make justice to Renoir’s work in any way other than by reminding us of its beauty. While it was certainly breathtaking, Renoir’s work had much more substance than whatever met the eye, just from his technique alone one can draw endless interpretations about the way in which he saw the world.

His choice of subjects is touched upon in a very superficial way when a character asks him why he doesn’t depict war or death, to which he wisely “there are enough annoying things in life, so I don’t make more”. The film’s saddest flaw is how it fails to connect with viewers, because it’s entirely too preoccupied with making everything look gorgeous. There is not a single ugly frame in this picture, but none are ever really interesting.

Even when drama is added to the plot, in the shape of the arrival of Jean (Vincent Rottiers) from the war, the result is unusually dull. The young man falls hard for Andrée but fears she has already been in his father’s bed. What could’ve led to some intriguing Shakespearean drama makes way instead for soap opera twists that are too self conscious and serious to engage us.

Bourdos, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jérome Tonnerre and Michel Spinosa, seems to have had the spark of a superb idea (two of the world’s most influential artists, who are also father and son, fight over the same woman!) but in the end the way in which he expresses the story makes no favors to any of the characters involved. If you don’t know about the Renoirs history by the end of the film you’d have no clue why it was important to learn about Andrée. The fact is that in the movie, not even she seems aware of why she is.

Renoir is presented in a magnificent transfer and the cinematography does deserve to be seen on the clearest screen available. Bonus features include short interviews with the filmmakers and the cast who, as usual, sell the movie in a way that sounds so fascinating, we can’t help but be endlessly disappointed with what ended up onscreen.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.