The Little Theater Of Jean Renoir

Renoir’s challenging and lovely last feature (1969) consists of three sketches and a brief song sung by Jeanne Moreau, with Renoir himself appearing to introduce each section. At the time of this film’s release critics tended to glide over or dismiss everything but the final sketch, a warm account of an old man learning to accept his young wife’s infidelity that summed up the generous and realistic manner that was all more conservative spectators expected from Renoir. But the film as a whole is a complex manifesto of his pluralistic approaches to both realism and style, and the other sketchesa highly artificial and sentimental fairy tale about a homeless couple and a bizarre, aggressive contemporary opera about a housewife’s burning desire for an electric waxerare essential. Indeed, what is most remarkable about Renoir’s swan song is the subtle interaction between these facets of his vision. Far from being a grab bag of unconnected pieces, as most critics have contended, it’s a musical suite in four movements, with each movement illuminating the others. If you want some notion of this great filmmaker’s range and breadth, here’s an essential key. (JR)

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