Thursday, 1 October 2009

Partie de campagne (1936)

For many years Partie de campagne (1936) has been on top of my list of films I was most eager to see. There can be little doubt as to the fact that Jean Renoir in the 1930s had one of the most extraordinarily creative periods of his life, or for that matter any film makers life. I've seen most of his films, and my favourite by far is La règle de jeu (1939), but had for some reason not been able to see this one, often called his best.

Today I saw it on the DVD released by BFI and it was exactly as I had imagine it to be. Pure joy. It's based upon a short story by Guy de Maupassant, and is a special film in that it was never completed, due to different circumstances, such as the weather and lack of further finance. Also, that a host of various not yet established film makers were involved in making it. Jacques Becker and Luchino Visconti being among them, as well as the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. But in spite of all these things it's very much a film overflowing with the peculiar sensibilities of Jean Renoir. It's sensuous, erotic, free spirited and has as a main character a river (Renoir shares with John Boorman a special relationship with rivers, which frequently appears in their films, often symbolically).

The story is very simple. It's set in the past, the end of the 19th century. Four people, a man, his wife, the daughter and the prospective son-in-law, goes on a picnic in the countryside. When the men disappear to go fishing, the two women are seduced by two handsome young strangers. Then the men returns, everybody goes home again, but two peoples lives have changed, and they will live forever with the memory of what happened, with a mixture of sadness and tenderness.

With the only exception of the future son-in-law, who is too much of a fool, the film is flawless, and what's so remarkable about it is that it could've been made at almost any time. It was made in 1936, and released in 1946, but it could've been made in 1931 as well as 1969. It's the very essence of timelessness.

Here's an example. Notice the moment the two men open the window after about a minute. (It is also a scene that's worth discussing when it comes to issues of "the male gaze".)

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