Capturing the effects of light on the landscape and its inhabitants was important to the impressionists, which is why Auguste Renoir instructs his latest model to arrive earlier for her next sitting. “Her skin soaks up the light” he imagines telling his recently departed wife, “You did well to send her to me”. Regrettably, this biopic achieves only half of the Impressionists' aims. While its landscape is beautifully bathed in sunlight, it sheds little light on the people who inhabit it.
It is a difficult time for the Renoir household. Two of the painter’s sons are serving with the French forces in WWI, his preferred model Gabrielle has left under mysterious circumstances, and his arthritis is so crippling he is unable to pick up a brush or squeeze paint from a tube. Yet he continues to paint, assisted by a bevy of female servants who carry him between his home, studio and various locations. Into this turmoil comes Andrée, who would be the artist’s last muse and the first wife of his son, filmmaker Jean Renoir.
Despite the many opportunities this scenario presents, none are fully fleshed out in this ploddingly-paced film. Whereas the Impressionists attempted to depict movement on canvas, director Gilles Bourdos presents a stilted moving picture.
Without any hint of irony, Jean’s elder brother (and future film actor) Pierre states that cinema is not for the French as their artistic background is too old and too heavy. It is a description that all too readily applies to this film.
In Pascal Merigeau’s biography of Jean Renoir, the author details two versions of Andrée Heuschling’s arrival at Les Collettes. The first, as depicted in this biopic, has Andrée first appearing in 1915. Her sister had responded to an ad placed by Auguste Renoir’s wife, and after being dismissed as too skinny by the painter, suggested her sister Andrée would be more suitable.
The second version, considered the more likely, has Andrée arriving in 1917 at the suggestion of fellow artist Henri Matisse.
Though there are no film scene recreations in this biopic, which takes place before Jean Renoir’s film career, convicted art forger Guy Ribes was employed to help with recreating several of Auguste Renoir’s paintings.