Whenever I want to reassure myself that the movies have the potential to equal the sublime poetic heights of a symphony or concerto by Mozart, or a painting by DaVinci,
Turner or Rembrandt, or a play by Shakespeare, I look at a film by Jean Renoir. From the mid-20s to the late-60s, he made a series of profoundly human masterworks, mainly in
France, but then in America, where he was resident, in Beverly Hills (believe it or not) from 1940 until his death in 1979. Deceptively simple, Renoir’s films were always artless--you never caught him working--they just seemed to flow from some deeply spiritual source.
There really aren’t any pictures better than The Grand Illusion, The Rules of the Game, La Bete Humaine, Boudu Saved from Drowning, The Lower Depths, La Marseillaise, The Crime of Mr. Lange, The Southerner, French Cancan, or The River, among others.
The youngest son of the great French Impressionist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean was a saintly man; director Leo McCarey said to me once that he always felt Renoir was too good for this business. I was privileged to be his friend for over a decade, and a few years ago, Peter Kaplan’s The New York Observer published a long, personal piece I did about him, titled The Best Director, Ever. If you’re interested to read more of my take on this exceptional artist, who was Orson Welles’ favorite director, as he is mine, click here and you’ll be linked to the full article.