These are “Rules of the Game” and “The Grand Illusion”, and both are by Jean Renoir. So it is no surprise that he has a reputation of being France’s most important filmmaker. As a director he made over 40 films, specialising in social expression, a very French approach.
He was the son of Auguste Renoir, the impressionist painter and the brother of Pierre, an actor. So creativity was in his DNA. it’s no surprise that many of his father’s paintings show Jean and the family and because soon after infancy photography began, there is good documentation of his early life. Often photographic groups include other painter’s children such as Cezanne’s offspring.
His first muse was Catherine Hessling who appeared in Nana. In this film the camera shot of close-up to a long shot became one of his signature set pieces. Look for this in the bedroom where the camera goes from a cupid above the bed head and pulls out.
Made in 1937 “La Grand Illusion” is a story about First World War French Officers escaping from a succession of prison camps. It builds on their friendship and alliances amongst each other showing how French and Germans of the same social class help each other, even when Nation is pitted against Nation. probably with WWII storm-clouds brewing it was strangely topical. This is his most popular film it ran and ran in the picture houses on both sides of the Atlantic. My favourite in the film is Erich von Stroheim, one of Renoir’s heroes, in the neck brace who plays the ‘Von Rauffenstein’ character to perfection, inviting prisoners, but of the same social class . . to lunch ! The film is littered with escape tunnels, farm barnes and snow.
Two years later he made “La Regle du jeu”. At the heart is a radio broadcast where personal feelings for a woman are shared with the listeners. The girl’s husband invites the perpetrator to his country house and the machinations unfurl. Murder. death, kill, with a comedy of manners where he examined each participants viewpoint of the events as they unfold.
Amongst his earlier films you will find one titled “La Nuit du Carrefour”. Don’t be dissapointed, it’s not about late-night-shopping or ghostly assistants wandering aimlessly along the aisles, it’s Inspector Maigret tacking a gang of criminals operating from a crossroads just outside of Paris.
But he didn’t only make films in French. Hollywood drew him into its fold and he directed some of the early greats and set them on their careers in the movies: Charles Laughton, Paulette Goddard, J.Carrroll Naish, Burgess Meridith and George Sanders.
He died in 1979 in Beverley Hills, but came back to France to be interred in Essoyes in Burgundy. Writer, artist, aviator, photographer and filmmaker – he has given us two cracking films.