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Jean Renoir is widely seen as the greatest French director and one of the major figures of world cinema. This book introduces Renoir's life and his highly uneven career. It demarcates his vision of his films, craft and ideological evolution and draws substantially on his writings and interviews. As he made films addressing different audiences with varying degrees of freedom in shifting production and socio-historical contexts, the book identifies the periods when the contextual factors remained relatively stable. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, mon père is the text most frequently drawn upon to fill in his early years. The book deals with Renoir and his leftist critics and the auterists. He is a challenge to auteurists because of his commitment and his many changes of direction. Cahiers was a polemical journal, and the Cahiers critics were far from uniform in their general outlook or their specific response to Renoir. It then considers the films that Renoir directed during his first decade as a film-maker. They are considered in two groups: the silent films and those that followed the introduction of sound. Critics seem to assume a dehistoricised and homogenised America that is somehow the antithesis of France. Perhaps this is because 'Renoir américain' was seen on European screens when the cold war was raging and the world seemed polarised between two monolithic blocs. The book also deals with Renoir's late films after his return to France in 1951, after an absence of more than ten years.

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Laurent Cantet is of one France’s leading contemporary directors. He probes the evolution and fault-lines of contemporary society from the home to the workplace and from the Republican school to globalized consumption more acutely than perhaps any other French film-maker. His films always challenge his characters’ assumptions about their world. But they also make their spectators rethink their position in relation to what they see. This is what makes Cantet such an important film-maker, the book argues. It explores Cantet’s unique working ‘method,’ his use of amateur actors and attempt to develop an egalitarian authorship that allows other voices to be heard rather than subsumed. It discusses his way of constructing films at the uneasy interface of the individual, the group and the broader social context and his recourse to melodramatic strategies and moments of shame to force social tensions into view. It shows how the roots of the well-known later films can be found in his early works. It explores the major fictions from Ressources humaines to the recent Foxfire, Confessions of a Girl Gang. It combines careful close analysis with attention to broader cinematic, social and political contexts while drawing on a range of important theorists from Pierre Bourdieu to Jacques Rancière, Michael Bakhtin and Mary Ann Doane. It concludes by examining how, resolutely contemporary of the current moment, Cantet helps us rethink the possibilities and limits of political cinema in a context in which old resistances have fallen silent and new forms of protest are only emergent.

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

This chapter introduces Jean Renoir's life and his highly uneven career. It demarcates his vision of his films, craft and ideological evolution and draws substantially on his writings and interviews. Renoir was born in 1894 in Paris, and his first project was Catherine ou une vie sans joie for which he hired Albert Dieudonné to direct his wife. As he made films addressing different audiences with varying degrees of freedom in shifting production and socio-historical contexts, the chapter identifies the periods when the contextual factors remained relatively stable. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, mon père is the text most frequently drawn upon to fill in his early years. Renoir celebrated the popular commitment that led to the victory of the revolutionary armies against the Prussians at Valmy. His discussions of cinematic creativity during the Popular Front period are an intriguing blend of left-wing collectivism and inherited definitions of the creative process.

in Jean Renoir
Martin O’Shaughnessy

Jean Renoir is widely seen as the greatest French director and one of the major figures of world cinema. Hence, he has become a plum prize for critics (especially French ones) to fight over. This chapter deals with Renoir and his leftist critics and the auterists. His challenge to critics of the left comes from his move in and out of commitment. He is a challenge to auteurists because of his commitment and his many changes of direction. Cahiers was a polemical journal, and the Cahiers critics were far from uniform in their general outlook or their specific response to Renoir. If left-wing criticism of Renoir has been indelibly marked by a reaction to the auteurism of Cahiers, then subsequent auterist analyses have had to respond to the Renoir of the left. The chapter lingers on the rich and challenging existential auteurism of Serceau before exploring essentialist auteurism.

in Jean Renoir
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Martin O’Shaughnessy

This chapter considers the films that Jean Renoir directed during his first decade as a film-maker. They are categorised into two groups: the silent films and those that followed the introduction of sound. The chapter begins with Renoir's two silent films: Charleston, evoking colonial themes, and Le Bled celebrating the centenary of the colonisation of Algeria. La Fille de Veau combines an entirely conventional melodramatic narrative with avant-gardist visual effects. Renoir's early sound films were literary adaptations. The chapter explains the adaptations of boulevard comedies all of which stage the collision between a disruptive character and a constraining social frame. It then looks at Madame Bovary and La Chienne both of which show the destruction of a self-deluding individual by a corrupt society. The chapter also looks at La Nuit du carrefour and Toni, two films that stage the collision of tradition and modernity while foregrounding migration and xenophobia.

in Jean Renoir
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Martin O’Shaughnessy
in Jean Renoir
Martin O’Shaughnessy

During the mid-1930s, Jean Renoir made a decisive move towards the political left. This chapter follows the Popular Front's fortunes through the mood of Renoir's films: the radical upcurve before and immediately after electoral triumph (Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, La Vie est à nous and Les Bas-fonds), a tame downcurve as the Popular Front fragmented and lost all momentum (La Marseillaise) and post-Frontist despondency as gains were clawed back (La Bête humaine) culminating after Munich in an embittered assault on a society unwilling to renew or defend itself (La Règle du jeu). Le Crime de Monsieur Lange was made during the heady early days of the Popular Front and brought Renoir together with the radical leftwing theatre company. If Une Partie de campagne and Les Bas-fonds are considered together, the more broadly progressive of the two films is the more regressive in gender terms.

in Jean Renoir
Martin O’Shaughnessy

Critics seem to assume a dehistoricised and homogenised America that is somehow the antithesis of France. Perhaps this is because 'Renoir américain' was seen on European screens when the cold war was raging and the world seemed polarised between two monolithic blocs. This chapter retains Christopher Faulkner's notion of the ideological shift in Jean Renoir but suggests a more complex toing and froing before Frontist values are finally abandoned. Renoir experienced the United States as a refuge, a haven of freedom in a world where freedom was increasingly in short supply. The chapter suggests that Swamp Water and The Southerner can be seen as an outsider's engagement with myths of America. This Land is Mine and Diary of a Chambermaid, while noticeably inflected by Hollywood, have clear links to Renoir's Popular Front films. The Woman on the Beach and The River show men psychologically or physically maimed by the fighting.

in Jean Renoir
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Martin O’Shaughnessy

This chapter deals with Jean Renoir's late films after his return to France in 1951, after an absence of more than ten years. The later films are more consistent in tone than the disparate body of work that had gone before. The later films generally see the world and its failings with mocking irony, preferring a dispassionate moral vision to a tragic or political one. The first three (Le Carosse d'or, French Cancan, Eléna et les hommes), are all historically set costume dramas and form a natural group. The next two (Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe) are contemporary fantasies and were shot in the same innovative way. Le Caporal épinglé moves away from cultural definitions of nation and back towards a more 'political' Frenchness, centred on the need to fight for freedom.

in Jean Renoir
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Martin O’Shaughnessy

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the key concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. Produced with a range of different collaborators, in widely varying circumstances and production contexts, Jean Renoir's work must be located in a world undergoing massive and often traumatic change, one rent by competing ideologies and war. Rather than seeking some impossible synthesis, it is better to trace its evolution, identifying periods of relative consistency and crucial turning points that gave it a new direction. The silent period films are interesting for their technical innovation and visual inventiveness. The early 1930s are dominated by adaptations of novels and boulevard theatre and take from them a critique of the bourgeoisie that is at times gentle and at times acerbic but always inwardlooking. Some of Renoir's Hollywood output explores tensions in American mythology to a limited degree without ever subverting it (Swamp Water, The Southerner).

in Jean Renoir