Jean Renoir Collection DVD
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Directed by Jean Renoir
Produced in 1930-1960
Main Language - French with English subtitles
Jean Renoir (1894-1979) ranks among the most influential film-makers in the history of the medium. An inspiration to the poetic realists, the neo-realists, the mavericks of the nouvelle vague and cine-humanists like Satyajit Ray, Kon Ichikawa and Jacques Becker, he began his career in the silent era and it's good to see that this boxed set of restored classics includes such early works as Sur un Air de Charleston (1927) and La Petite Marchande d'Allumettes (1928) among the extras.
Already a key figure in French cinema during the optimistic Popular Front era, Renoir secured an international reputation with the Great War POW drama, La Grande Illusion. Co-scripted with Charles Spaak and starring Jean Gabin and Renoir's own directorial mentor, Erich von Stroheim, this pacifist tract challenged the continent's drift towards war by calling for co-operation between its nations and classes. Renoir would return to this theme in Le Caporal épinglé, which used the escape attempts of Second World War conscripts Jean-Pierre Cassel and Claude Brasseur to stress that inaction is not an option in times of crisis.
Financed by public subscription, La Marseillaise was a boisterous account of the Marseilles Battalion's march on Paris that reflected Renoir's conviction that change could only be brought about by the masses. And he remained among the proletariat for La Bête Humaine, a grittily noirish adaptation of Emile Zola's novel, in which Simone Simon betrays stationmaster husband Fernand Ledoux with train driver Jean Gabin, who again captured the pre-war mood of pessimism with another tangibly tragic display of doomed heroism.
Having seen out the war in Hollywood, Renoir remained an auteur in exile until the early 1950s. Unsurprisingly, therefore, a mood of nostalgia permeated such lavish colour spectacles as Elena et les Hommes, in which Ingrid Bergman's Polish countess rejects money and military might to marry an aristocratic charmer. Renoir similarly paid tribute to Paris in Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, which followed Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier, the same year's reworking of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, in warning against the dangers of unregulated scientific endeavour.
David Parkinson on 21st May 2007
Author of 241 reviews
A collection of seven films (nine in fact as La Grande Illusion features the bonus silent films Sur un Air de Charleston (1927) and La Petite Marchande D’Allumette), that spans 35 years in the great French director's career.
La Grande Illusion (1937), Renoir's most famous film, noted for its humanistic, anti-war message, is a poignant meditation on class, the nature of war and the death of the old European order.
La Bete Humaine (1938), starring Jean Gabin and Simone Simon, was adapted from Emile Zola's novel of murderous passion, and is a powerful tale of intrigue and claustrophobic guilt, in which train driver Lantier becomes involved with a sensuous woman, for whom he lies to protect her from implication in a murder.
La Marseillaise (1938), is a carefully woven tapestry of the French Revolution, depicting the turbulent events of July 15th 1789 to August 10th 1792 – from the storming of the Bastille by an undisciplined rabble to the defeat of the mighty Prussian infantry by a unified nation. The film traces the adventures of Arnaud and Bornier, two members of the peoples’ army whose fight for the principles of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternity represents that of the nation itself
Elena et les Hommes (1956), stars Ingrid Bergman as Elena, a Polish countess who falls in love with men on the cusp of greatness who need her support, then leaves them when their life’s goals have been achieved: her mission also then fulfilled. Her passion for great (undiscovered) men extends to great causes, and leads her to fall in with a group of conniving plotters who plan a coup d’etat, after which they will install war hero General Francois Rollan (Jean Marais), as dictator.
Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (1959), is Renoir’s take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde story, switching the action to 1950s France. Jean-Louis Barrault stars as Dr Cordelier, whose strange experiments on research patients have resulted in a vicious brute named Opale, seemingly responsible for a wave of terror sweeping the Paris suburbs.
Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe (1959), stars Paul Meurisse as a scientist involved in a radical program pioneering the use of artificial insemination. Coming from a coldly formal intellectual upbringing, Alexis’s invention aims to remove passion from reproduction as he perceives it to be unnecessary complication; and in doing so he will bring further wealth to his family via their chemical-making corporations. Inspired by his father’s paintings, the film is visually stunning while also cultivating a playful air of satire and romance.
In Le Caporal Epingle (1962), Renoir revisits the prison camp setting he first exploited in La Grande Illusion almost 30 years before, directing Jean-Pierre Cassel as an aristocratic French Corporal who is captured by the Germans shortly after their invasion of France in 1940. Helped by a variety of different characters – both French and German, the Corporal repeatedly escapes and is recaptured, sometimes making it barely a mile, sometimes all the way to the French border.
Publisher: Studio Canal
Length: 708 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 4th June 2007
Cat No: OPTD0867
- 7 discs
- La Grande Illusion: Introduction by Ginette Vincendeau
- 2 short films by Jean Renoir: "Sur Un Air De Charleston" (1927) & "La Petite Marchande D'Allumettes".