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Blu-Ray: Partie de Campagne | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-Ray: Partie de Campagne

Blu-Ray: Partie de Campagne

Unfinished gem from French master of cinema

Henriette (Sylvie Bataille) and her suitor Henri (George Darnoux)

Partie de Campagne (1946), while not being one of French cinema giant Jean Renoir’s best-known films, unfinished and just under 40 minutes long, is still regarded as an important if not essential example of the director’s multi-faceted and often innovative work.

The somewhat fragmentary story, based, along with many French movies, on a short story by Maupassant, focuses on a brief moment of love between Henriette and Henri, a fun-loving charmer, and evokes the transience of romantic love. The theme of class-difference, which runs through the left-wing director’s work and is central to his masterpieces La Règle du Jeu (1939) and La Grand Illusion (1937), is present in Partie de Campagne, not least the upper-class pretensions of the Parisian shopkeeper’s family on a day-trip into the country.

The bucolic riverside scenes which make up most of the story were shot on location. The director was banking on beautiful summer sunshine, but the weather turned out terrible, with torrents of rain pouring down. With many interruptions, the shoot dragged on and on. The cast fought with each other, and Renoir eventually went off to shoot Les Bas-Fonds. Producer Pierre Braunberger tried to rescue the film, bringing in the poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert to revise the story, but the production floundered, as Renoir lost interest in the project. The film was finally finished without him and released in 1946.

That the film should have survived a chequered career, is testimony to Renoir’s skill. The film possesses unusual charm, that is enhanced by the actors’ lively performances, exceptional photography by Jean Renoir’s nephew Claude, and some daring directorial decisions. The two chancers who compere for the attentions of the jovial yet pretentious Parisian’ daughter Henriette are beautifully played by George Darnoux (Henri) and Jacques Brunius (Rodolphe). Sylvia Bataille fizzes with feminine charm. There is an unforgettable sequence in which she lets go on a swing, a classic image of erotic abandon, which Renoir manages to capture in a thrilling series of close-ups that sum up the spirit of a film in which good manners are undermined by physical desire.

The film pays homage to the richness and sensuality of the countryside: shrubs and trees brought to swaying life by the wind, the powerful flow of the river, all of which provide context for the amorous story that unfolds, with time working its entropic influence on human emotions. There are echoes of Jean Renoir’s painter father Pierre Auguste’s romance with nature, as well of themes that run through love poetry all the way back to the French Renaissance poet Pierre Ronsard, who commented in a melancholy manner about the evanescent essence of attraction and beauty.

This was a low-budget film, and many of Renoir’s friends helped out: there are walk-on parts for the writer and philosopher George Bataille and the photographer Cartier-Bresson. And the crew includes Jacques Becker and Luchino Visconti.

Partie de Campagne is a unburnished gem of a film, both very much of its time – a dream-world conjured between two terrible World Wars – and daring in its stylistic uses of sensuous close-ups of faces. There is something a little frustrating about an end that feels tagged on, and yet, the whole has an enchanted quality that equals anything else that Renoir created in his immensely fruitful and influential career.

The main bonus item on the disc includes takes that weren’t used, complete with clapper-boards. They have a certain period charm, and remind us that Renoir was one of the first film directors to go for sync sound recorded on location, something we all too easily believe was pioneered in the experimental days of the Nouvelle Vague a quarter of a century later.

The film pays homage to the richness and sensuality of the countryside

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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