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.