Jean Renoir: Silents

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Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby R6dw6C » Sat Nov 10, 2007 4:20 pm

Due to a decent retrospective (16 Films plus two documentaries by Jacques Rivette and Jean Eustache) of Renoir's work here in Nuremberg, I had the chance to see six of his films (I was very busy and missed the rest ) screened from English / German subtitled 35/16mm Prints. The silents shown were "Fille de l'eau / Whirlpool of Fate", "Nana" and "Petite marchande d'allumettes / The little Match girl".

First of all, I have to confess that I still have a little problem to get into silent films, though I've never had a real discouraging experience - the only one probably was "The Nurtull Gang" by Per Lindberg so far. So those three films by Renoir managed to enrich my cinematic horizon a lot, I suppose. About "Whirlpool of Fate", I mostly agree with both of you, though I felt sympathy especially for the afore criticised melodramatic attitude - imo, the film is some kind of tragic fairy tale (a poor girl loses her family, travelling with gipsies and finally gets to know the man of her dreams - that's one of oldest fairy tales ever, at least in Europe), and the over-the-top exploitation of the conflicts Gudule (Catherine Hessling) is involved in, reminded me of some German post-WWII romantic films (you asked for Olaf Mller's choice in the "Sight and Sound"Hidden-Gem-List, arsaib? "Monpti" has quite a lot in common with this one and it is a masterpiece!) and of Douglas Sirk (another great director I'm discovering at the moment). And it was one of Renoir's first films, of course. That shall not be forgotten. But I liked it a lot nevertheless (8/10).

The second film was "Nana", which was all right but not a great effort at all. It was shining through that this was a highly ambitious project for Renoir, but I think the film, though worth the experience - especially because of Catherine Hessling's gorgeous, unbelievable performance, Werner Krauss and a beautiful new print - is a failure. A condign failure,yet. Even A (as he complains very often about films being too short ) thought it was too long and needed too much time to tell about few things, and so did I. Overall, I didn't really know what to think about it. But Catherine Hessling's acting was SO extremely intoxicant (maybe it was an overwhelming effect? ), that I decided to watch it again in the future. (6-7/10)

The third and last film, "The little Match Girl" was probably my personal favourite of the retrospective. In opposition to the other 4 Films (except "The human Beast") it gave more space to me as a viewer, and not only due to its experimental, surreal style. While the other films all suffered from too strong storylines and precise narration, this one had all formal and narrative qualities recquired by its story, and so it gave me much joy, both intellectually and emotionally. As my mother always read out of Hans-Christian Andersen's short stories for me when I was a child, it was fascinating to watch those childhood memories turning into a strong, rich and adult film. (9/10)
R6dw6C
 


Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Nov 12, 2007 7:24 am

Very nice post, R6dw6C. It must've been a pleasure to attend such a comprehensive retro. I'd certainly like to get to those documentaries some day.

I haven't come across a better film critic than Mr. Mller. I try to get to every film he recommends, and so Kutner's Monpti is certainly high on my list of films to see. Now I'm glad to hear that you liked it too. I hope it becomes available with English subtitles.

Good points re: Whirlpool of Fate and The Little Match Girl. I guess I'm in the minority when it comes to Nana even though I had the nearly opposite reaction to Hessling's performance. In any case, life imitated art to some degree a few years later because Mrs. Renoir wasn't casted in La Chienne, which is said to be one of the reasons why their marriage dissolved.
arsaib4
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby R6dw6C » Mon Nov 12, 2007 10:52 am

Yes, but probably I would have appreciated it more if it would not have been my first encounter with Renoir. Thus I felt a bit lost sometimes. And I missed both documentaries myself, so there is no need to be jealous (and they were shown in the original french version without subtitles - Je ne comprends pas...). But A's encouragement helped a lot. Fortunately, he ordered the 3-Disc-Set by Lions Gate you and wpqx recommended to him.

He's also raving about Olaf Mller a lot - I never heard of him before but it seems that I simply have to check out some of his work in the future - and it's intriguing that he likes "Monpti" that much . It was a huge success at the time of its release but never became a real cult classic and was always flogged by critics who called it "Kitsch", "Clich" or naive. That's all nonsense if you ask me. The film itself has both a very emotional, aspirative and dreamlike - though modern - side (I wonder if Paul Verhoeven saw it before he made "Turkish Delight"), and a hidden face showing some abstract social criticism. And of course it has a very young, sweet and stunning Romy Schneider. When I saw it the first time on television 6 years ago, I cried almost one hour because of the tragic ending. When I saw it a second time it became even better (though I didn't cry this time). I'm hoping for all of you that Criterion, Wellspring, Kino or another similar company will pick it up one day. It absolutely deserves a release, as it is one of the most important and ambitious "commercial" German films of the 50ies (I'm almost jealous - most people outside of Austria and Germany hardly know how terrible and plain German cinema was during the 50ies). It's availabe on DVD over here, but as usual, without English subtitles. Hopefully it'll be mine very soon.

And about Catherine Hessling... So it seems that she really had some bits of the jealous "bitch" she played in "Nana" in her. I know that she didn't really overact but it is absolutely over the top nevertheless. Some moments made me open my eyes wide saying to myself: "Oh my god, I've never seen anything quite like that, how hysterical, incredible, more impressive than any special effect!". Almost a female Klaus Kinski and sort of a strongly spiced preview of Vivien Leigh's awful (though much more reserved) performance in "Gone with the Wind".

Now i'll try to complete my own retrospective and watch "The Great Illusion" soon.
R6dw6C
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Nov 13, 2007 12:44 am

Just wait till you watch her in Charleston Parade!
arsaib4
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby wpqx » Tue Nov 20, 2007 12:03 am

besmirching the good name of Vivian Leigh in GWTW?
wpqx
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Nov 20, 2007 8:24 am

R6dw6C notified me that he's currently busy and will be back asap.
arsaib4
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby A » Wed Nov 21, 2007 7:31 am

Now that R6dw6C mentioned it, I have to say that it strongly resembles Leighs performance. But unlike him I enjoyed it a lot. Gone with the Wind (1939) is a "camp" classic after all.

Unlike wpqx and Matalo Matango, I only saw two silents by Renoir at the cinema. Unfortunately I had too many other commitments, so I watched only a handful of Renoir movies, some of which were presented in incredibly bad copies (La rgle du jeu (1939) was a "lowlight" in this regard). But I caught at least the one-and-a-half hour long "talkumentary" of Renoir and Michel Simon that was filmed by Jacques Rivette (and edited by Jean Eustache!) for French TV in the 60s. Somehow it never got screened there, but the print survived until it was dug out in the 90s and presented to the public. Although I was a bit tired, I witnessed an interesting (and subtitled) screening.

La fille de l'eau (Whirlpool of Fate / 1925) was actually a rewatch, as I had already seen the film at the BFI in London five years ago. What had stayed with me was a wonderfully improvised piano score by the gifted musician who at that accompanied the silent films at the institute and some beautiful imagery that had managed to stay with me over the years (the impressionist opening shot and the sequence at the river, Catherine Hessling as an apprentice at her first theft, as well as most of the dream sequence). What had also remained was the shock of watching such an improvised and meandering movie, which seemed to have barely a plot at that time. My second screening in October showed me that the film actually had a plot - and maybe too much of it. What impressed me most this time was again the rural setting, the landscapes and the impressionist atmosphere Renoir created in certain moments. I would have wished there was much more of it, and Renoir would have completely forsaken the interesting if unsurprising story. The famous dream sequence wasn't as interesting as I remembered, but I found out that I had completely forgotten the best moments it contains. As arsaib astutely points out: Quote:the filmmaker practically unleashes all the available components of his formal and stylistic apparatus: variable frame rates, superimposition, multiple exposures, acute angles, intense contrasts of light, etc.At the beginning of the dream we see Catherine Hessling's "spirit" wandering around, not noticing her uncle watching her, who seems glued to a tree (a sexually charged image that could have come right out of Bunuel's Un chien andalou, made a few years later - it can be seen on the previous page of this thread on the image arsaib uploaded for his review). When she does notice him we see her fleeing in a couple of unrelated slow-motion studies, her robe and her hair flying behind her. These gorgeous images alone (that lasted less than a minute) would have been worth seeing the film for, and for me they were clearly the highlight. I couldn't believe my eyes, and was simply incredibly happy to be able to witness them (again) in a theater. They must have definitely been an inspiration for Jean Epstein, who used similar and even more accomplished scenes in his version of Poe's La chute de la maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher / 1928 ). The famous rest of Renoir's dream-sequence was subsequently merely interesting. Nevertheless the ride through the sky became so well-known that it already got copied various times during the silent era. An interesting variation appears only one year later in William A. Wellman's underappreciated small comedic gem The Boob (1926), where George K. Arthur flies above the sky in a car instead of a horse. I also saw a print with re-translated French intertitles as arsaib mentioned in his review which were subtitled with a German text. It will be interesting to see the film again with English subtitles and without a piano score. This time, I found the musical accompaniment rather uninspiring, and i think I might like the movie more when I watch it "silent". Thanks to the Lionsgate 3-Disc Set I'll be able to do just that.

Nana (1926) was in my opinion more interesting and a huge step forward for Renoir. Here I have to agree with arsaib, that some important traits of his later films can already be observed, and I also think it is a better and more interesting film than "Whirlpool of Fate". Renoir's artistic genius is clearly on display in many scenes of the film, and his direction of actors is incredible. I have rarely seen a better silent performance by an actor in a silent film than Werner Krauss' portrayal of the tormented Count Muffat. But the clear highlight of the film was Catherine Hessling. Her performance was simply breathtaking. Incredibly intoxicating, as R6dw6C rightfully put it, and there can be added many more expressions of joy and wonder. Definitely the best female performance I have witnessed from the silent era, it is one for the ages. Whenever Hessling is on the screen she almost sets it on fire. I wished she had been in the film every second of it, because she is the focus and essence of the whole enterprise and the movie loses its balance when she isn't there. The first half is one of the best in Renoir's catalogue, taking advantage of the stark and theatrical settings, and displaying a mastery in choregraphy as he arranges his actors beautifully in a space he defines through the use of a beautiful deep focus photography, accomplished lightning and very effective editing. The long static takes that are reminiscent of 19th century cinema were a joy to behold, and the beautifully restored image of the tinted print probably helped in my appreciation of this narrative device. Unfortunately Renoir starts to lose it when the focus shifts from Nana to the other characters in the second half, and the film feels more and more unnecessarily dragged out, as we await the expected conclusion (I see we all agree that the film is too long). It seems that Renoir doesn't always know what to do with the story and his characters once he has established his theme and technique. And as the movie progresses, he isn't able to combine the two diverging acting style's of Hessling and Krauss, who seem to drift more and more away from each other when the script clearly tries to unite them, into a satisfying whole. A task which Renoir would master in his later work, when he directed similarly gifted actors like Michel Simon, Jean Gabin or Erich von Stroheim. I find it very interesting, that we have kind of two differing opinions on the board. While arsaib and wpqx obviously weren't particularly fond of Hessling's performance (to put it mildly ) me and R6dw6C thought it extraordinarily good. Maybe we could start a discussion about different acting styles on the bases of this. I think we all agree that Werner Krauss' acting (which I'd call internal and naturalist, as opposed to the expressive and manierist of Hessling) was extremely impressive. The critic who introduced Nana to the audience at the cinema in Nuremberg warned us of Hessling's poor performance, and from numerous books and texts I've read on the subject, it seems that the film wasn't a (financial) success partly due to the audience not liking it. Most of the film critics I've read also seem to agree on this issue. Btw, have you seen the restored print like the rest of us wpqx?

In the end, I'd say that "Whirlpool of Fate" feels like the work of a talented director, while Nana already shows the signs of a master. Unfortunately Renoir hasn't realized yet that he is best when he observes people in their environment, and least interesting when he tries to fulfill the expectations of a narrative feature. When Renoir tries to tell us something he is not better than the rest (I'm not very fond of La rgle du jeu), but if he merely observes he is able to reach the stage of a genius. Renoir's gentle gaze makes us literally feel every emotion of the characters he is so devoted to, and the trembling of an eyebrow becomes as important as any other movement, as he bridges the inner and outer reality of his characters and makes us excperience this constant shifting. And when he sets the camera into motion he is one of the best. His slow tracking shots which can be found in many of his films are not only some of the best in film history, but express best his humanity and humility as a person and filmmaker. For it is in them that the transcendence Renoir always aims for exposes its potential. What he has taught the viewers, filmmakers and theorists who admired him was the awareness of life.
A
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby wpqx » Wed Nov 21, 2007 6:52 pm

If you are fond of Hessling, then you must certainly continue on with The Little Matchgirl and Charleston which I think are head and shoulders above Whirlpool and Nana. The print I saw of all of these films were the DVD release here in the states and it was the restored print. Renoir's early films were largely unsuccessful. One of the reasons for the diminished scale of Renoir's next couple of films was the failure of Nana, largely financed from Renoir's own pocket and the selling of his father's paintings. I find it odd that the very thing you commend in Nana (the 1890's style camera work) is exactly what I found so distancing in the picture.

I imagine all of us can at least agree that the man's best work was done over the next decade.
wpqx
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Nov 25, 2007 12:51 am

That Cinastes de notre temps episode(s) by Rivette must've been great. Excerpts are available with a couple of the Criterion DVDs but I haven't yet seen them.

"When she does notice him we see her fleeing in a couple of unrelated slow-motion studies, her robe and her hair flying behind her. These gorgeous images alone (that lasted less than a minute) would have been worth seeing the film for, and for me they were clearly the highlight."

Me, too. I'd love to see the film again, and hopefully in a theatrical setting. Good point re: Buuel.

I'm glad to have some support for Nana, even though the stylization of one Andre Heuchling remains a point of contention.
arsaib4
 

Re: Jean Renoir: Silents

Postby A » Mon Nov 26, 2007 5:32 am

As far as I know, there were three episodes or programmes produced by Cinastes de notre temps on Renoir at that time, although I don't know in how many Rivette was involved (or credited as a director). Would be interesting to find out.

Yes, the first Mme. Renoir remains a point of division.
A
 

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