17. Jean Renoir and Poetic Realism

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visit MIT OpenCourseWare at ocw.mit.edu. DAVID THORBURN: We
make a transition now to the final segment
of our course in which we– and
this transition always induces a
kind of guilt in me, a kind of deep ambivalence
and disappointment, and awareness of
the simplifications and reductions that are
embedded in all syllabi and in all curricula. And it’s a good
opportunity for me to remind you that even the
primary emphasis of our course, which is on certain
forms of American film, is itself highly
selective and simplified and reductive as
you– as I told you. They were– in the
Hollywood system, they were making
500 films a year. Think of the small number
we’ve actually seen, right? It’s the tiniest sampling of
what’s actually available. And what I’ve tried
to do is give you a kind of taste of what that
phenomenon of the Hollywood film was like without trying
to pretend at all that I was coming anything close– not
just couldn’t be exhaustive– we couldn’t even be extensive
or mildly serious about trying to do justice to
the complexity of that body of material. And that’s even truer of
course in this moment– in these final
moments of the course, where I try to do sort
of a brief acknowledgment of the fact that there
are profound and powerful traditions of cinema outside
the United States– in fact some more profound or at least
as profound and some more powerful ones many
people would say than the achievement
of American cinema– than the achievements
of American cinema. And perhaps the
strongest example of that– the most
dramatic example of that– is French film. It has a kind of
parallel history. At virtually every
stage of the history of French film–
of American film, you can find a kind
of counterpart story in French film as if– it’s
almost as if– and in fact, there have been
historians who have tried to argue about the priority. Who invented film? Were the French more
advanced than the Americans? Who first developed
forms of serial movies? Who first developed forms of the
chase– of the comic chase film in the early silent era? And so forth. And I think these
arguments are not very helpful about priority. But it is very
important to remind you that the history of other
national cinemas, and most especially the histories–
the history of French cinema has the same complexity, nuance,
detail that American film has. We can speak– and just let
me very quickly remind you. I’ve asked you to read a chapter
from David Cook’s history of narrative film that deals
with the complex achievements of French film in both the
silent and in the sound era. And I hope you
read those chapters and reread those chapters
closely, and think about them. Just as a reminder,
however, we– there are arguments, just as Edison
and– the earliest films that were made in the United States
are associated with the Edison company. So the same kind of thing is
true for the Lumiere films that were developed in
the 1890s in France. And of course, just as they
were pioneering directors who explored and the
nature of cinema, the possibilities of this new
medium in the United States, an identical activity was
taking place in France. And some of you of
course know about the essential contribution of
the early pioneering director, Melies, who talks extensively
about him in the chapter I asked you to read– the man who
in fact invented the science fiction movie, in the
film A Trip to the Moon, and did so many other early
experiments with for– with combining the
reality of film with certain forms of
surrealist imagination. The tradition of discourse
about film in France probably is deeper
and has a longer life than in any other society. And many people would say
that along with Eisenstein, the great Russian director,
it’s the French who elaborated the first systematic
forms of film theory. And there were in the silent
era and in the ’20s, in France, a series of developments
that encouraged a systematic kind of
theoretical approach to film. I won’t mention names here
or particular or particular theorists– simply
acknowledging the fact that the French
tradition of discussion about film, and in
the equation of film, is at least as rich as
that of any other society. I say this because
making John Renoir stand for this whole rich
tradition is unfair, even to so remarkable and
influential director as Jean Renoir. But having made
that basic apology, let me now make my
transition to Renoir himself. Some of you will recognize
Renoir’s name I hope. He’s the second son of the great
impressionist painter, Auguste Renoir. And in fact you can–
he was himself a subject of his father’s paintings. There’s the young Renoir
with blonde reddish hair as he appears in one of
his father’s paintings in the period 1895 to 1899,
when young Jean appeared in a series of paintings. In some of the paintings his
gender is very ambiguous. He looks– not just
that he has long hair, but he even seems dressed
in a kind of girly way. And he’s sometimes
mistaken for a girl when people look at the images. But isn’t it interesting
that this great film artist is himself in a
series of– is already in a series of immortal works
of art created by his father? Jean Renoir grew
up in an atmosphere of avant garde– almost
avant garde frenzy– many of the most distinguished
artists and performers of the day were regulars
in his household because his father by
the– he was born late in his– very late
in his father’s life. And his father was already
a very famous painter by the time Jean was born. When he grew to adulthood, he–
around the time of the First World War– he served first
in the cavalry in 1913 very briefly, and was
actually injured– he was kicked by an animal,
I think a horse or a mule kicked him, and he was laid up. Then he re-enlisted in the
infantry where he was wounded and he said finally– so this
is very rare in the first World War– he ended up serving
also in the Air Force. And he was briefly a pilot
in the French Air Force. So he served in all three
branches of the French– First World War. And the film you’re going to see
tonight, the great masterpiece, such– the great influential,
deeply influential film, Grand Illusion, is a war film
of a certain Renoirish sort as you’ll see this evening. He also served briefly
as a prisoner of war during the First World War. And that experience of
course, in some degree, in some central way, informs
the story and the experience of Grand Illusion,
which is also a story about– a film about prisoners
of war during wartime. You can get some
sense of– do we have some pictures of
his father’s paintings? Let me just get– these are just
of course among some of Renoir, Pierre’s most famous paintings. And I thought that
it would be– you would be interested
to see them to get some sense of– to remind you of
the importance of his father’s art, and of the asking you–
and also as a way of encouraging you to imagine what the
impact might have been on the young boy to have grown
up in an environment like this. I don’t know, that
does look like Jean. Maybe there’s another
picture of Jean. He had kind of a jowly face. And that may be among the oldest
images of him that he– him at the oldest age that
his father painted him at. He worked on his first– after
he emerged from the First World War, he had
conflicting ambitions. But he moved into
film fairly soon. He wrote a script in 1924. He began to make his own
movies around the same time. I have a very brief list
of some of his films. Would you put those up? I want to talk very quickly
about a couple of his films, and then turn to certain
other important matters. But the most important thing
to say about Renoir’s– Jean Renoir’s career– is that
like some important American directors, his career spans both
the silent and the sound era. And he made some significant
experimental silent films of which the most well
known in terms of experiment is the film The
Little Match Girl, based on a Hans
Christian Andersen story. And it uses certain
kinds of surreal imagery that’s very surprising,
especially in a silent film. And it– and I mention that
he made a silent version of a novel by Zola, Nana, as
a way of simply also reminding you from a very
early stage, Renoir understood that the
movies were a form that could sustain the most ambitious
kind of artistic act– aims. And it’s a measure
of his sense of that, that he would adapt, even during
the silent era, a film by one of France– by a
classic French author. But his mostly– but his
really significant work begins in the sound
era, and in what’s often called his French period. And the films I’ve listed
between 31 and 39– not a complete
list of his films, this is a very selected
list– but it’s a list of his most– of some
of his most significant– all of his most– among his most
significant films for sure. No really important
title is missing, although there are many other
interesting films that he made. And it’s the period
between 31 and 39 when he left France,
after Rules of the Game, while– when the Second
World War was imminent, came to the United States. And the films of the ’40s
that I’ve listed there were made in Hollywood. And he was very
welcomed in Hollywood. And there are people
who– film scholars who are great fans of these
three films, these three titles, that he made
in the United States. Then he left the United States. The film, The River, which
many Renoir buffs love as much as his primary films,
although I find it a much slower and
less powerful film, although visually
incredibly beautiful. It’s set in India. And the river is the Ganges. And it’s a very, very
remarkable meditation on the power of
place in society. But his central achievement are
the films of his French period running through the 1930s. And I want to say a word
about some of these. Well, one of them,
La Chienne, stars the same character who stars
in Boudu Saved From Drowning– and you’re going to see a clip
from that film in a moment– Michel Simon. And La Chienne announced a kind
of complexity and ambitiousness in Renoir’s work that–
would deeply significant. It had a kind of moral
or political claim. It was a film set in the slums. And it was about an aborted,
or an abortive or tragic love affair, between a working man
played by a proletarian, played by Michel Simon,
and a prostitute who is unkind to him at the end,
and throws him over at the end. And the film’s
interest in the life of the low– in the lives and
circumstances of the lower social orders was
especially significant. And Michel Simon’s immensely
powerful physical performance was also memorable. And you’ll see a version
of that in a moment. In the following year, he
made what many people call his first great
masterpiece, a film called Boudu Saved From Drowning. It’s a– the French
title is [FRENCH], saved from the waters, [FRENCH],
the waters, plural. And the French title
is a little better as I’ll try to say in a moment. He made– I mention the
Madame Bovary partly again to show you something
about his ambition. He’s trying to say
in effect, look, the film is an
equivalent art form to the great novels of our past. In 1935, he made
a film that many identify as a forerunner
of Italian neorealism, the movement we’ll be
studying next week. And I talk a bit about Toni
in next week’s lecture. It’s a film, very
experimental in certain ways, it uses a lot of
non-professional actors. And again, it’s about the
circumstances of the working class in some ways. It’s about French
Quarry workers who were treated with a kind of
clarity and attentiveness that previous films
had not– had rarely granted to members of the– not
only the lower social orders, but here, immigrants–
not even natives. His two masterpieces
come in ’37 and ’39. Again, remember I’ve left out
a number of titles there– this is a selected
list– the film you’ll see tonight, Grand
Illusion, and what many people think of as his greatest
film, a deep, complex, satire on contemporary French life
in the– just before the war, called Rules of the Game. The primary label that’s
attached to Jean Renoir’s work is that of poetic realism. And it’s a way of trying to
distinguish a form of movie making that emerges, of
which Renoir is the most dramatic and powerful exemplar. But there were many other
examples in French cinema. And it’s worth talking a little
bit about a key forerunner to the tradition of poetic
realism, a director named Jean Vigo, who died
tragically young, as you can see from his dates,
who made the three films– three titles I’ve listed there. And these films had an immense
influence on later filmmakers. Zero for Conduct is a film set
in a– it has surreal elements. And its plot is hard to follow. But essentially, it tells the
story of children going back to school. It’s a– and following
them once they get into a kind of
boarding school, and rebel against
their house masters. And there’s a sort of
comic element in the film. And there’s also an
element that might be called an impulse toward
lyric retardation, by which I mean, the retarding is
the retarding of the plot. I don’t mean mental
retardate– right? There’s a kind of lyric
impulse to celebrate what’s going on right in front of you
at the expense of the plot, as if the story almost stops
moving at a certain point, while the camera and the–
well the camera itself sort of indulges in witnessing a
spectacle so intrinsically interesting in itself that
it seems to lose interest in the ongoing story. So there’s this
tension in Vigo’s films from the very beginning. And what some scholars have seen
a tension between denotation and connotation, between
the denotation being the simple realism,
the ongoing story. Right? And the connotation being
the poetic or lyrical impulse of the film to sort
of celebrate life in its complexity
and its nuance, without any interference
from the demand that you follow a story. And this tension is a
fundamental element, not only in poetic
realism, but as you’ll see, in the Italian form
of this, called neorealism that emerges out of it. And it’s somewhat of a
grittier and more historically politically engaged kind
of drama– kind of film, even though it’s a direct
outgrowth of the kind of thing we’re saying about
poetic realism. And in both forms, in
both kinds of film, there is this retarding
impulse, this lyric impulse, in which the story’s desire
to get on with itself is sometimes in conflict
with the camera’s desire to look at what
it sees, to revel in what it wants to look at. And so Jean Vido, partly indeed
because of his tragic life– short life– and partly because
he was the son of an anarchist, of a political anarchist,
of a serious anarchist, who wrote about theories
of anarchism as a political
movement– and he himself was very hostile to
authority, Jean Vigo. And his films animate
a kind of anarchic, anti-establishmentarianism,
that is very distinctive. He’s almost always on the side
of the weak and the powerless. Let me say a few words
about what we might call the key features of neorealism. One of the most fundamental
elements of neorealism is what could be called a mise
en scene style, that is to say, it’s committed to long takes. The poetic realism is interested
in the external world, and in the relation between
characters and the outer world. And although it will use
abrupt cuts of various kinds, it won’t do so at the
expense of your experience of the outer world. It wants the audience
to take in what it sees, and to make judgments about it. It doesn’t try to– in the
way that certain other kinds of styles might
do– to manipulate your response in quite
the– in so dramatic a way. And what follows from
this mise en scene style is what some scholars have
called in camera editing. because what’s going on is
because the camera, the tape, because the camera is
going– well the style is committed to long
takes, what will happen is the camera will alter
its focal length– its depth of field– or it will
simply move and change its– the object of its gaze
while it is in operation. So that it’s– instead of a
series of cuts that are made in the editing room, it’s the
camera man working the camera who’s making certain decisions
that in another kind of film would be made by a film
editor after the fact. And this creates an effect
of not exactly improvisation, but an effect of– an effect
that creates the impression that there’s a kind of–
sometimes at its most powerful or compelling moments,
as if the camera is actually almost a living witness
to what it’s seeing. And it’s responding in very
nuanced, and sometimes very abrupt ways, to what
it sees and hears. So there are sometimes moments
in both poetic realist films, and in Italian neorealist films,
in which a noise will occur, and you’ll suddenly see
the camera turn to find out what the noise is, as if
the camera is humanized in this kind of scene. And what follows from
that is the camera is all– not always, but
usually set at eye level. It does not give a lot of
fantastic distorting angles of vision because it’s not
interested in that kind of surreal or expressionist
representation. So mise en scene style
in camera editing. A second fundamental
feature would be filming on location, right? No more in studio. There’s a kind of gross
fundamental realism to these kinds of films because
they use natural lighting. They insist or try to
insist on themselves as actually photographing a
world you recognize as real, not a world that has been
artificially constructed in a studio– in a studio space. What follows also from
the location filming, is a commitment to
what might be called true light and sound, right? It’s very rare in these kinds
of films to have external sound. The sound, even the music that
comes up in many of these, in most of these films–
this is a wonderful habit of Renoir himself. Sometimes you actually
think the music is not a part of the drama. But then you discover it is. Almost all the music
in Renoir’s films is part of the dramatic texture. It’s not imposed
from the outside. It’s not a soundtrack that
doesn’t grow out of the action. So if you hear music
in a Renoir film– I’ll show you an example of
it in a moment from Boudu– it turns out that the
music is being played by characters in the film. And you actually end up seeing
them with their instruments. So true light and sound. And what that also means is
sometimes sound is obscured. Sometimes sound is
overlapped with other noises. Sometimes dialogue is
hard to hear because there are noises in the real world. I noted that this was
an aspect of a number of American directors
in the post studio era, and especially in
a film like McCabe where Altman does
this kind of thing. And I think that it’s very
probable, even though I don’t know this for certain,
that Altman himself went to school on
these films and knew the experiments with sound
or the treatment of sound that was characteristic
of Renoir’s films, and other forms of Ita– of
both French and Italian forms of realism– what
was called realism. And then two other
features– one already implied in what I was
saying– a camera that’s very fluid in motion. Not in gigantic motion, but
very subtle kinds of motions. And if you watch
Renoir’s camera, you’ll see that it’s almost
constantly making these minute adjustments to what it’s looking
at or to what it wants to see. And then finally, something
I’ve already said, there’s a great emphasis on what
could be called depth of field. That is to say, you’re
aware of the dimensionality of the images you’re looking at. So there’s a background, a
middle ground and a foreground. And very often, you’ll see the
camera change its focal length, and what will– if the
foreground was in focus, you’ll actually experience
the camera shifting its focus, bringing in the background that
had been out of focus before. And the effect of this while
it– because it takes place within your experience
of viewing it– doesn’t take place
hidden behind edits– is to make you part of
the process in some sense. Again, to make you feel
that the camera’s behavior is a part of your
experience of the film, that you’re experiencing the
film through a medium that has a kind of
immense sensitivity to what it’s looking at, an
immense respect for what it’s looking at. Well, so, key features, let
me just summarize them again– a mise en scene style, which
means in camera editing, especially filming on location. Commitment to true
light and sound. A fluid moving camera. Commitment to depth of field. What we might call,
again, creating this tension between a
kind of lyrical impulse, a kind of celebratory or a
poetic impulse as some people have said, and an impulsive
simply to deal with the world, to capture the
world, to describe, or to dramatize the world fully. Well, I think I can show you or
dramatize these principles more fully for you, if I
give you some examples. But as a way of
introducing this, I want to talk very quickly
about one formulation immensely influential
formulation about Renoir that I think you’ll find
helpful and interesting. And these are lines that have
been written about Renoir by the great
critic, Andre Bazin, who was a great champion
of Renoir’s work– also a great champion of
Italian neorealism, and one of the great
theorists of the cinema. And we can capture–
I think when– I think that Bazin
captured something of Renoir’s importance in
these passages from his book titled, John Renoir,
published in 1971. “No one has grasped the true
nature of the screen better than Renoir,” so wrote Bazin. No one has more
successfully rid it of the equivocal– of
equivocal analogies with painting and the theater. Plastically the
screen is most often made to conform to the
limits of the canvas. And dramatically, it’s
modeled on the stage. You see what he–
Bazin is saying, is he’s reminding us that
when a new technology emerges, old habits are so deeply
embedded that it’s very hard to free
oneself from them, even though there’s nothing
inherent in the new technology that requires you to see
the world in the ways that the older systems did. And then there’s a period of
transition that’s involved, a period of experiment
and discovery. What Bazin is saying
here is that Renoir is one of the great
pioneering discoverers, right? Because with these two
traditional references in mind, directors have conceived
their images as boxed within a rectangle. As do the painter and
the stage director. And in fact this
still happens today with lazy or foolish directors. Renoir on the other
hand understands that the screen is not a
simple rectangle, but rather the surface of the
viewfinder of his camera. It is the opposite
of a frame, right? There’s stuff that goes
on outside the frame. If it’s look– this
is a brilliant piece of writing I think. Technically, this
conception of the screen assumes what I, Bazin, shall
call lateral depth of field. Lateral depth of field– that
is to– but it’s an oxymoron. Again– contradiction, but
how could there be a lateral? But what he means is that you
become aware of things going on on the margins of
the visual field, even outside of what
you can actually see. Since what we are shown is only
significant in terms of what is hidden from us, and since
the value of what we see is therefore continually
threatened, the mise en scene, right, what is put
in the scene, right, the mise en scene cannot limit
itself to what is presented on the screen. The rest of the scene,
while effectively hidden, should not cease to exist. The action is not
bounded by the screen, but merely passes through it. And a person who enters the
camera’s field of vision is coming from other
areas of the action, and not from some limbo or
some from imaginary backstage. You get this? Think how exciting this is. What a fundamental
insight it is into the way a film can become
compelling, and why it is that so many films
might seem factitious to us despite the gross
reality of the cinematic image. Likewise, the camera should
be able to spin suddenly. Renoir is full of moments
in which the camera will make a wide swa– sometimes
360 degree circle, sometimes 180 degree turns, in
order to remind us of what has not been
in the frame, of what is on the margins of the frame. So the camera should be
able to spin suddenly without picking up any holes
or dead spots in the action. Well I want to give you
two examples of this, which are, among other things,
instances of what I call– put my outline back up–
instances of what I call visual style as moral vision. And I’ll hopefully be explaining
that term as we look at it. So the first clip
I want to show you is from the film you’re
going to see tonight. And it’s a way of
alerting you to qualities not just in this scene,
but elsewhere in the film that I hope you’ll
become much more attentive to, because
we’re taking the time to single them out now. So here is a scene
from– are we ready? From Grand Illusion, from
relatively early in the film. Now, as I’ve told you, the
film is about prisoner– French prisoners of war. So here’s a scene. These are prisoners. But it’s the First World War. They’re allowed to
receive packages from their– in the
mail, and what people– that relatives and friends
send them is food very often. All right. Can you make it a little louder,
not that it really matters? Now, watch the
camera’s behavior. Can you freeze it one second? Look at the window there. Why is that significant? What do you notice in
the window already? Movement, right? Do you see how– and the way
the scene began, we know where that character has come from? Even though these two
characters are in confrontation and talking to each other,
we’re aware of activity in the window behind them. We’re aware of other
people in the room. It actually may seem
as if it’s very easy to create this effect. But of course it’s
profoundly difficult. And Renoir is the
pioneer in creating these kinds of effects. How fluid the camera
is, how– that’s what I want you to watch for. Your awareness of
the fact of action that’s going on partly
outside the frame. All right, continue. And the man at the head
table is the wealthiest of the prisoners. And he gets the best food. So he shares it
with his comrades. It’s a tremendously
good meal for prisoners. This is the least violent
war movie ever made. Are you beginning to notice
how each of the characters is individuated in this scene? I don’t have time
to talk about this. Watch it tonight. Maybe I’ll say a
bit about it tonight when I introduce the film. Look, each one of
them we can almost– we can tell what social
class they belong to from their dress, from
their mode of speech. You see how quietly, but
complexly, the camera examines the space? And that’s Jean Gabin, one
of the central characters, and one of the
great French actors. All right, we have to
stop this because– I’m sorry I have to cut this short. It’s a brilliant scene. Watch for it tonight. Comes fairly early in the film. Watch how each of the characters
is individuated as this scene goes on. How crowded the scene
is in one sense. How you’re aware of activities,
and even conversations, that are taking place outside
the frame of the camera itself. And when the camera shifts
over to one set of characters, you’re aware of other
conversations that are ongoing. In other words, the sense of
reality that this style creates is profound and compelling
it seems to me– powerful. But I want to show you another
and even more dramatic clip, partly because it comes
from a film you’ve not seen, and because it captures certain
other qualities in Renoir’s work. And this is the famous ending
of Boudu Saved From Drowning. Let me set the scene for you
while Kristen’s getting it up. In this scene– this comes
at the very end of the film. The film is a satire. And Boudu is a bum,
a [FRENCH], of whom there were tens of–
there were thousands, if not tens of thousands
living in Paris during the era when the film was made. A kind of tramp,
like the character that the Chaplin figure
plays in the American films. Although Michel Simon
is a much more massive figure than Chaplin. And in the very
beginning of the film, he plays this– he seems to
try– he jumps into the river to try to commit suicide because
he’s lost his beloved dog. He’s a figure of despair. And a middle class bookseller,
named Lestingois, spying him through his spy
glasses, looking out of his book– out of the windows
of his bookshop, sees this bum. And at first he goes,
oh, what a perfect bum, he thinks to himself. What a perfect embodiment
of what a tramp is. And then he becomes upset
when he sees the guy jump into the river,
and he runs out, he dives into the
river to save him. And it turns into a kind
of comic scene of saving. People gather on the bridge
and look down and so forth. He pulls him out, brings
him into his home. His wife is very
resentful of it. But eventually, she adapts. And he moves into the middle
class bookseller’s home. And of course he
wreaks havoc there because he stands
for nature itself. He can’t be civilized
or tamed, right? He’s Boudu soul, saved
from the waters, right? So he’s saved from
the waters at the end. But as you’ll see, at the
end– at the beginning. But as you’ll see at
the end of the film, he’s back to the waters. So here– so what
happens essentially is among other
things in the course of the story, this
figure of nature, turns out that he can’t
quite be civilized. One of the things he does is he
manages to have a love affair or to seduce– I
shouldn’t call it a love affair– both
Lestingois’s mistress, a young maid who works in
his house, and his wife. And a kind of semi
scandal occurs in which far– in which
the tramp character, played by Michel Simon, wins the
lottery and becomes very rich. So he then– a marriage of
convenience is arranged. And he’s going to marry the maid
that had been the bookseller’s mistress. And this sort of
straightens everything out because there had been a
kind of scandal brewing. And in the final
scene of the film is the wedding party, in
which Boudu, his new bride, the bookseller, and his wife are
in a boat together celebrating the wedding. [MUSIC ONSCREEN] And of course,
these images would have invoked Renoir, Pierre’s
paintings very powerfully as well. [MUSIC ONSCREEN] Many of Jean Renoir’s
treatment– films set in nature are said to have been
influenced in some ways by his father’s paintings. There’s Michel Simon
and his new bride. You see how there’s
music, but it’s coming from source inside the story. [MUSIC ONSCREEN] That’s the bookseller in the
back, with the white hat. Everything looks wonderful. [MUSIC ONSCREEN] One thing I think, one reason
I wanted you to see this is look how leisurely this is. I mean, where is it going? We’re at the end of
the movie yet, now, and yet look how the film sort
of, almost as if it doesn’t, even at this stage,
doesn’t want to end– doesn’t want to move forward. [SILENCE] All right, he reaches
for the flower. [SPLASHING] [SCREAMING AND CRYING] Now remember, he’s
just been married. What’s happening to him? Where’s he going? [SCREAMING ON FILM] Often when I show
this to my classes, because I’m always worried about
time, I get impatient here. But in fact, it’s
a bad reaction, because the film wants us
to savor what it’s doing. Right? Can you feel the sort of lyrical
tendency just to sort of look at the world in its beauty? As if the impulse to tell
a story and the impulse to photograph the world are
in some degree in conflict, because the world keeps
resisting the categories you put it in. The camera keeps discovering
new things to look at. So here Boudu comes ashore. Think of how anarchic
this vision of life is, because he’s just
deserted his new bride, and his new wedding,
and all that. Right? Doesn’t seem to matter. He gets up on shore. He’s still wearing
his wedding clothes. And this becomes then a
highly symbolic moment. [MUSIC ONSCREEN] He sees a scarecrow. Now he’s going to shed
his middle class identity by changing clothes with it. [MUSIC ONSCREEN] I suppose one fundamental
aspect of the satire is– what the film
is saying is look, nature is always more
untamed and difficult than middle class
romantics imagine. It’s not a tamable thing. Oh here he comes, eating
is bread, newly free again. Right? Identifies with the goat,
shares his food with the goat. [SILENCE] [SINGING ONSCREEN] [GOAT BLEATING] [SINGING AND MUMBLING ONSCREEN] Pay attention to the camera. [MUSIC ONSCREEN] OK, shut it off. At one point in
Bazin’s book on Renoir, he talks about this sequence. And I want to remind
you that he talks about this sequence
in an era before it was possible to easily
replay the movies, right? It was an era long
before video tape, long before television actually. And when you wanted to
watch a movie again, you have to get
projectors and show them. So very often when Bazin
was writing about his film, he was working from memory. And he makes some
technical mistakes. But he gets the essence
of the scene right. Listen to this. He says, “Renoir the moralist
is also the most realistic of filmmakers, sacrificing
reality as little as possible to the
thrust of his message. The last scenes from Boudu
could serve as an epigraph to all of Renoir’s French work. Boudu, newlywed, throws
himself into the water”– not exactly, it’s an accident. It’s important that
it’s an accident. It’s not like he was
planning his escape, right? Because he’s nature. He doesn’t think. He stands for the
natural, right? But by accident,
the boat overturns, and Boudu makes his escape
because it’s possible to do so. It’s not as if
it’s premeditated. That’s important. “Dramatic or
psychological logic would demand that such an act
have a precise meaning. Is it despair or suicide? No it’s not at all. In fact, it’s just an accident.” Boudu is– without
maybe even fully realizing it is trying
to flee the chains of a bourgeois marriage. “Renoir like his
character, forgets the act in favor of the
fact, and the true object of the scene ceases gradually
to be what Boudu intends.” Right? What is Boudu up to? Why is he doing this? I don’t even think Bazin’s
right to even raise the question because what we think he is
doing is just enjoying himself, right? Then it occurs to him,
when he gets on land, that he’s free of his marriage. “Renoir, like his
character, forgets the act in favor of the fact. And the true object
of the scene ceases to be Boudu’s
intentions, and becomes the spectacle of his pleasure. And by extension, the
enjoyment that Renoir derives, or we as
viewers derive, from the antics of his hero. The water is no longer
water, but more specifically the water of the
Marne– a tributary of the Seine– in August. Michele Simon floats on. It turns over,
sprays like a seal. And as he plays, we begin to
perceive the depth, quality, and even the tepid
warmth of the water. When he comes up on the bank,
an extraordinary slow–” He calls it a 360 degree pan. Remember that final
move the camera? But it’s probably 180 degrees. He’s remembering it imperfectly. “–shows us the countryside
he sees before him.” The world he sees before him. “But this effect by
nature descriptive, which could indicate space
and liberty regained, is of unequal
poetry because what moves us is not the fact that
this countryside is once more again Boudu’s domain,” although
that is one effect of it. Boudu is free. And the camera shows
the beauty and freedom of the world in
that 180 degree pan. “but that the banks of the
Marne and all their richness of detail are
intrinsically beautiful. And you’re aware of
that, aren’t you? At the end of the pan, the
camera picks up a bit of grass, where in close up
one can see the dust that the heat and the wind
have lifted from the path. One can almost feel it
between one’s fingers. If I were deprived of the
pleasure of seeing Boudu again for the rest of my days,”
I remember the first time I read those lines,
and I realized what it meant to be a movie
critic or a literary critic. Think of what’s
implied by that. “If I were deprived of the pleasure
of seeing Boudu again for the rest of my life” as if
this would be a deprivation too horrible to contemplate. Right? It made me realize my
own vocation in a way. “If I were deprived of the
pleasure of seeing Boudu again for the rest of my
days, I would never forget that grass, that
dust, and their relationship to the liberty of a tramp.” The point of this
exercise is to remind you of the immense
power, the potency, of even a single camera move. Think what that 180 degree pan
suggests, as Bazin brilliantly argues for us. So the conclusion then is that
the visual style of a film, over a certain films anyway,
can express a moral vision. And by moral vision, I don’t
mean moralistic– what’s didactically right and
wrong– but a vision of having to do with the values
and assumptions you make about the nature of the world. There’s a moral vision
implicit in the tentativeness, the hesitancy, the
retarding impulse to dwell and linger on
things, in Renoir’s camera, and in the basic habits
of poetic realism that you will see
brilliantly embodied in the film you’re going to
watch tonight, Grand Illusion.

10 thoughts on “17. Jean Renoir and Poetic Realism

  1. ivan grozny part I and II, from eisenstein, everyone passing by the comment section, plz take a moment of your time and go see these movies i mentioned.

  2. Watch-Download The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936) Full Movie HD
    Click Here , http://bit.ly/2j3W4xP

    Title : The Crime of Monsieur Lange
    Release : 1936-01-24
    Runtime : 80 min.
    Genre : Drama, Crime
    Stars : René Lefèvre, Jules Berry, Marcel Lévesque, Odette Florelle, Odette Talazac, Nadia Sibirskaïa
    Overview : A man and a woman arrive in a cafe-hotel near the belgian frontier. The customers recognize the man from the police's description. His name is Amedee Lange, he murdered Batala in Paris. His lady friend Valentine tells the whole story : Lange was an employee in Batala's little printing works. Batala was a real bastard, swindling every one, seducing female workers of Valentine's laundry… One day he fled to avoid facing his creditors, and the workers set up a cooperative to go on working. But the plot is less important that the description of the atmosphere just before the Popular Front.

  3. Loving the cameraman mimicking what Prof. Thorburn is explaining around minute 19:00

  4. Yeehaw, he's talking about the textbook I'm studying out of! God bless the fact that this is on the internet.

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