by writer/director Gilles Bourdos
My film is called Renoir, but my initial imaginings were of a young girl discovering a strange wood and glass studio, nestled in the heart of the Mediterranean Eden. Life source of the father who was dying and a son “not yet born,” Andrée (the future Catherine Hessling) would have been the medium for a tortuous circulation of both amorous and artistic desires. She had a unique destiny in the history of art, by turns model and actress, at the crossroads of painting and cinema, object of the artistic Oedipus complex of a father and a son.
Andrée is speed and movement: the will of modernity pushing on the door of Les Collettes. She penetrates a world that seems to be asleep and awakens an old bereaved painter, reawakening desire in him.
All this filled me with a desire to film the beauty of Andrée’s youth confronted with the bodies of mutilated men, devoured from the inside or in mutation like the adolescent Coco. Three men’s bodies and three ages of life subject to desire, a quest for sensual pleasure threatened at every moment by anxiety, sickness and war.
Observing the life and work of Auguste Renoir, we are struck by this paradox: when he suffered atrociously from polyarthritis, when his wife died, and his two oldest sons were seriously wounded, his painting overflows with sensuality, desire and joy. I had a very strong feeling that his painting was a counterbalance to his suffering. By recreating this small pictorial Eden on his property of Les Collettes, he was responding to a world full of suffering all around him—a world resonating with the drive towards death and the specter of decay.
What interested me in Auguste Renoir was this dialogue between physical suffering and the necessity of beauty. At this time, his painting became detached from daily life: the canvas is filled only with the bodies of women floating in a world removed from time. You have the feeling that he is trying to enter directly into the Arcadia of his masters, into Eden, in his lifetime. Everything in his daily life should have led him to paint subjects closer to the “Cry” of Edvard Munch, but the opposite is true. When his flesh caused him terrible suffering, his painting is there to celebrate the sensuality of a young girl’s skin.
At this time, the 21-year-old Jean Renoir was a young man without vocation, fascinated by the fraternity of the trenches. Gravely wounded at the front, he was convalescing at the family home with his father. This is where Jean met Andrée, who was determined to become an actress and who inspired the young man with her passion for the cinema. He let her decide for him, faithful to his father’s theory: let life carry you like a cork carried by the current. Later, he would confide: “I only got into moviemaking in the hope of making my wife a star.”
As a poacher in Renoir territory, I was permeated with a thought of water. Bodies of water. The father, like the son, always followed streams and water muses. I dreamed of a fluid film, the sinuous flow of a river.
I am happy that this film is being presented at the Landmark Theatre in Los Angeles, so close to where Jean Renoir lived for forty years. He so loved this Californian landscape that reminded him of the Mediterranean of his youth.