Poetic Realism (1930-1939)
The Poetic Realism film movement, which started in 1930 and extended through the end of the decade, was full of characters living on the fringe of society, whose lives, to be frank, sucked.
They pined for the good life, but that life eluded them; they waxed nostalgic, but they settled for being angry, bitter, and disappointed most of the time.
In the films of the Poetic Realism Movement, things usually didn’t turn out well for the characters because of their less than optimistic outlook. When someone gives up on life, that’s pretty much time for the big FADE OUT.
Idealism? Hope? Sunshine and rainbows and unicorns? Were unicorns even a thing in French in the 1930’s. Probably not.
So what is this Poetic Realism we speak of? We’ve already talked about the realism and the decided lack of unicorns or anything remotely happy in the films of the time, but the poetic aspect of the movement refers to the film’s aesthetic.
When you have set designers at your disposal such as Lazard Meerson, and such respected, revered, and prolific composers such as Georges Auric, Maurice Jaubert, and the extraordinary Arthur Honnegger, what could possibly go wrong? Plenty.
While these angsty, depressing opuses were beautifully lit, well-designed, visually arresting, and an aural feast for the ears, according to some of the movement’s critics and scholars alike, the overall production values, weren’t so great.
Perhaps the reason behind the lack of production values was because, to be honest, depression, kvetching and complaining about life for an entire movie is a hard sell no matter what era in which you live. (See Dan Fogelman’s Life Itself.)
Poetic Realism Directors
The most influential directors of the time included the stratospheric likes of Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier, Jacques Prévert, Jean Vigo, and Marcel Carné.
Jean Renoir was the most revered director of the time. He was born in Paris in 1894 and died in 1979 in Beverly Hills.
He was the son of legendary artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
What makes him so impressive is that his body of work started in the silent film era and until his final film in the 1960’s. That’s quite a stretch. He received an honorary Oscar in 1975 for his contributions. In 2002, a BFI critic poll named him the fourth greatest director of all time.
Julien Duvivier was born in Lille, France in 1896 and passed away in 1967. He started in the business as an actor, but then moved onto writing, and directed his first feature film in 1919. His first “talkie” was David Golder (1930).
His film La belle equipe(1936) was the embodiment of Poetic Realism; the story centered around some down-and-out workers winning the lottery, but their success doesn’t last very long. Before you know it, they’ve lost everything and well, that was pretty much it. The ending was so depressing that it was changed to reflect a happier ending. One of the many actors he worked with throughout his career included the legendary Maurice Chevalier.
Marcel Carnè, who lived from 1906 to 1996, started in the business as a film critic and rose through the ranks to become an editor for prestigious French cinema magazines, but during that time, he was also served as a camera assistant, and by the age of 25, directed his first short film.
In 1936, he embarked on a twelve-year collaboration with surrealist Jacques Prèvert; his films Le Quai des brumesand Le Jour Se Lèvewere hailed by one critic as one of the movement’s greatest classics.
Jean Vigo, whose father was a militant anarchist, and who lived a very short life (1905-1934), due to complications to Tuberculosis, spent most of the time on the run with his parents. He only directed four films, including À propos for Nice, La Natation par Jean Taris, Zero de Conduite,and L’Atlante.
Despite his tragically abbreviated career, his impact has been profound; his only feature film was his only feature film. That being said, two film organizations have named awards after him and they are given out annually to celebrate French filmmakers.
Poetic Film Movement On-Screen Talent
Some of the actors who graced the films of Poetic Film Movement included Jean Gabin, who was well-known not only for his film work but also for his relationship with the legendary Marlene Dietrich; stage actor Michel Simon; legendary Academy Award Winner Simone Signoret; and Michèle Morgan, who was considered to be one of the greatest French actresses of the 20th century, and won the first-ever Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Fun fact: Ms. Morgan, might have lived to the age of 96, but she only celebrated 24 birthdays. She was born on February 29th, 1920. She died in 2016.
Poetic Film Movement Filmography
Some of the most important films of the Poetic Realism Movement includes:
L’Atalante (1934) by Jean Vigo
La Bandera (1935) by Julien Duvivier
La Belle Équipe (1936) by Julien Duvivier
Les Bas-fonds/The Lower Depths (1936) by Jean Renoir
Pépé le Moko (1937) by Julien Duvivier
La Grande Illusion (1937) by Jean Renoir
La Bête humaine (1938) by Jean Renoir
Le Quai des brumes (1938) by Marcel Carné
Hôtel du Nord (1938) by Marcel Carné
La Règle du jeu (1939) by Jean Renoir
Le Jour se lève (1939) by Marcel Carné
We make a transition now to the final segment of our course in which we and and and this transition always induces a kind of guilt in May a kind of deep ambivalence and disappointment and awareness of the simplifications and reductions that are embedded in all syllabi and in all curricula. And it’s a good opportunity for me to remind you that even the primary emphasis of our course, which is on certain forms of American film, is itself highly selective and simplified and reductive, as you as I told you, they weren’t in the Hollywood system, they were making 500 films a year, think of the small number we’ve actually seen,right? It’s the tiniest sampling of what’s actually available. And what I’ve tried to do is give you will kind of taste of what that phenomenon of the Hollywood film was like, without trying to pretend at all that I was coming anything close to not not just couldn’t be exhaustive, we couldn’t even be extensive, or, or mildly serious about, about trying to do justice, to the complexity of that body of material. And that’s even truer, of course, in this moment, in this final in these final moments of the course, where I tried to do sort of a brief acknowledgement of the fact that there are profound and powerful traditions of cinema outside the United States, in fact, some more profound, or at least as profound and some more powerful, and many people would say, then, than the achievement of American cinema than the achievements of American cinema. And perhaps the strongest example of that the most dramatic example of that is French film. It has a kind of parallel history, at virtually every stage of the history of French American film, you can find a kind of counterpart story in French film as if it’s almost as it and in fact, there have been historians who have tried to argue about the priority who invented film, what were the French more advanced than the Americans who first developed forms of serial movies who first developed forms of of the, of the of the chase of the comic chase film in the early silent era, and so forth. And and I think these arguments are not very helpful about priority. But it is very important to remind you that the history of other national cinemas, and most especially the histories of the history of French cinema has the same complexity, nuance detail, that American that American film has, we can speak man. And just let me very quickly remind you, I’ve asked you, I asked you to read a chapter from David Cook’s history of narrative film that deals with the complex achievements of French film in both a silent and in the sound era. And I hope you read those chapters and reread those chapters closely and think about them. Just as a reminder, however, we know there are arguments just as just as innocent and and the earliest films that were made in the United States are associated with the innocent company. So the same kind of thing is true for the Lumiere films that were developed in the 1890s. In France, and of course, just as there were pioneering directors who explored and the nature of cinema, the possibilities of this new of this new medium in the United States, and identical activity was taking place in France. And some of you of course, know about the central contribution of the early pioneering director Mary Yay. who cook talks extensively about him in the chapter I asked you to read the the man who in effect, invented the science fiction movie in the film a trip to the moon, and did so many other early experiments with forte with combining the reality of film with certain forms of surrealist imagination, the tradition of discourse about film in France, probably is deeper and more has a longer life than in any other society. And many people would say that along with Eisenstein, the great Russian director, it’s the French who elaborated the first systematic forms of film theory. And there were in the, in the, in the, in the, in the silent era and in the 20s. In France, a series of developments that encouraged a systematic kind of theoretical approach to film I won’t mention names here or particular or particular, theorists, simply acknowledging the fact that that the French tradition of of discussion About film, and in the creation of film is at least as rich as that of any other society. I say this because making a genre and war stand for this whole rich tradition is unfair, even to so remarkable and influential director as john Renoir. But having made that basic apology, let me now make my transition to Renoir himself. Some of you will recognize Renoir’s name I hope, he’s the second son of the great impressionist painter, Auguste Renoir. And in fact you can, he was himself a, a
subject of his father’s paintings. There’s the there, there’s the young Renoir with blond reddish hair as he appears in one of his father’s paintings in the period 1895 to 1899, when the when young john appeared in a series of paintings, in some of the pay in some of the paintings, his his gender is very ambiguous he looks, not just that he has long hair, but even seems dressed in a, in a kind of girly way. And he’s sometimes mistaken for a girl when people look at the images. But isn’t it interesting that this great film artist is himself in a series of easel is already in a series of Immortal works of art created created by his father, genre noir grew up in a in an atmosphere of avant garde, almost avant garde frenzy and many of the most distinguished artists and performers of the day were regulars in his household because his father, by the way, he was born late in his very late in his father’s life, and his father was already a very famous painter. By the time john was born. When he grew to adulthood, he, around the time of the First World War, he served first in the cavalry in 1913, very briefly, and was actually injured, he was kicked by an animal, I think a horse or mule kicked him and he was laid up, then he reenlisted in the infantry, where he was wounded. And he said, finally, this is very rare in the First World War. He ended up serving also in the Air Force, and he was briefly a pilot in the French Air Force. So he served in all three branches of the French First World War, and the film you’re going to see tonight, the great masterpiece, so such as the great influential of deeply influential film, grand illusion, is a war film of a certain Renoir, a sword, as you’ll see this evening. He was, he also served briefly in as a prisoner of war during the First World War. And and that experience, of course, in some degree in some central way, informs the story and the experience of grand illusion, which is also a story about a film about prisoners of war during war time. You can get some sense of the good Do we have some pictures of his of his father’s paintings, let me just get these are just Of course, among some of Renoir pears, most famous paintings, I thought that you would be, you would be interested to see them to get some sense of of the, to remind you of the importance of his father’s art, and of the, the asking you and my also as a way of encouraging you to imagine what the impact might have been on the young on the young boy to have grown up in an environment in an environment like this. I don’t know if that matters look like john, that maybe it is another picture of john. He had kind of a jolly face, and that may be among the oldest images of him that he met the oldest age that his father painted him. He worked on his first paper baby after he emerged from the First World War, he he had conflicting ambitions but he moved into into film. fairly soon, he wrote a script in 1924, he began to make his own movies around the same time, I have a very brief list of some of his films. When you put those up.
I want to talk very
quickly about a couple of his films and then turn to certain other important matters. But the most important thing to say about Renoir’s genre and wars career is that, like some important American directors, his career spans both the silent and the sound era. And he made some significant experimental silent films of which the most well known in terms of experiment is the film The Little Match Girl based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, and it uses certain kinds of surreal imagery that’s very surprising, especially, you know, in a silent film and and I mentioned the He made a silent version of a novel by Zola, Nana, Nana as a way of simply also reminding you from a very early stage about Renoir understood that the movies were were a form that could sustain the most ambitious kind of artistic aim aims and and in, it’s a measure of his sense of that, that he would adapt even during the silent era of film by one of France, by one by a classic French author. But his most significant work begins in the sound era, and in what’s often called his French period, and the films I’ve listed between 31 and 39. Not a complete list of his films. This is a very selected list. But it’s a list of his most of some of his most significant all of his most, among his most significant films, for sure, known really important title is missing, although there are many other interesting films that he made. And it’s the period between 31 and 39. We left France after rules of the game, while when the Second World War was imminent, came to the United States. And the films of the 40s that I’ve listed there were made in Hollywood, and he was very welcomed in Hollywood. And there are people who are film scholars who are great fans of these three films, these three titles that he made in the United States. Then he left the United States, the film, the river, which many Renoir buffs love as much as his primary films, although I find it much slower and less powerful film, although visually incredibly beautiful, it sit in India, and the river is the Ganges. And it’s a very, very remarkable meditation on the power of place, in in society, but his central achievement are the films of his French period, running through the 1930s. And I want to say a word about some of these. Well, one of them last year in stores, the same character who stores and Budo saved from drowning, you’re going to see a clip from that film in a moment, Michelle Simone, and she announced a kind of bog complexity and ambitiousness in in Renoir’s work that that was deeply significant. It had a kind of moral or political claim. It was a film, set in the 80s in the slums, and it was about an aborted or an abortive or tragic love affair between a working a working man played by a proletarian, played by Michel Simone, and a prostitute who is unkind to him at the end and throws him over at the end. And the films into the film’s interest in the life of the law in the lives and circumstances of the lower social orders. Was was was especially significance significant. And Michelle Simone’s immensely powerful physical performance was also memorable. And you’ll see a version of that in a moment, in in the following year, he made what many people call his first great masterpiece of film called, will do save from drowning. It’s the French title is will do so Valle de zol saved from the Warner’s days, oh, that the waters plural. And the French title is a little better, as I’ll try to say in a moment. He made. I mentioned the Madame Bovary partly again, to show you something about his ambition. He’s trying to say in effect, look, the film is an equivalent art form to the great novels of our past. In 1935, he made a film that many identify as a forerunner of an Italian Neo realism, the movement we’ll be studying next week, and I talked a bit about Tony in next week’s lecture. It’s a film very experimental in certain ways that uses a lot of non professional actors. And, and again, it’s about the circumstances of of the working class in some way it’s about it’s about fringe quarry worker workers who are treated with a kind of win it kind of with the kind of clarity and and attentiveness that
that previous films had had not had had rarely granted to members of the not only the lower social orders, but here immigrants Not Not Not Not even natives is to masterpieces come in 37 and 39. Again, remember, I’ve left out a number of titles in this a selected list. The film you’ll see tonight, a grand illusion, and what many people think of as his greatest film, a deep, complex satire on contemporary French life in the in just before the war, called rules of the game. The primary label that’s attached to genre wars work is that of poetic realism. And it’s a it’s a way of trying to distinguish a form of moviemaking that emerges, of which Renoir is the most dramatic and powerful exemplar. But there were many other examples in, in, in French cinema. And and it’s worth talking a little bit about a key forerunner to the tradition of poetic realism, a director named john Vigo, who died tragically young, as you can see from his dates, who made the three films, three titles I’ve listed there. And these these films had an immense influence on later filmmakers. 04 conduct is a is a film set in and it has surreal elements. And it’s it’s it’s it’s plot, it’s hard to follow. But essentially, it tells the story of children going back to school, it’s a it’s a, it’s a and following them once they get into a kind of boarding school and rebel against their housemasters. And there’s a sort of comic element in the film. And there’s also an element that might be called an impulse toward lyric retardation, by which I mean that the retarding is the retarding of the plot. I don’t mean mental retardation, right, there’s a kind of lyric impulse to celebrate what’s going on right in front of you at the expense of the plot, as if, as if, as if the story or more stuffs moving at a certain point, while the camera and, and, and, and the camera itself sort of indulges in, in a in witnessing a spectacle. So intrinsically interesting in itself, that it seems to lose interest in the ongoing story. So there’s this tension in vigoss films from the very beginning in what some scholars have seen a tension between denotation and connotation, between the denotation being the simple realism, the ongoing story, right, and the connotation, being the poetic or lyrical impulse of the film, to sort of celebrate life in its complexity and its nuance, without any interference from the demand that you follow a story and this tension, because it’s a fundamental element, not only in poetic realism, but as you’ll see, in the Italian form of this called Neo realism, that emerges out of it is somewhat of a grittier and more historically, politically engaged, kind of kind of drama, kind of kind of film, even though it’s a direct outgrowth of the kind of thing we’re saying about poetic realism. And in both forms, in both kinds of film, there is this retarding impulse, this lyric impulse in which in which the story’s desire to get on with itself is sometimes in conflict with the camera’s desire to look at what it sees, to, to, to, to, to, to revel in what it in what it wants to look at. And so shall we go poorly indeed, because of his tragic life, short life, and, and partly because he was the son of an anarchist, of a political anarchist of a serious anarchist, who wrote about theories of anarchy of anarchy, anarchism as a political movement, and he himself was very hostile to authority to john Vigo, and his films animate a kind of anarchic anti establishment, anti establishment terian ism. That is, that is that is a very distinctive, he’s almost always on the side of the of the weak and the powerless. Let me say a few words about the key what we might call the key features of Neo realism, one of the most fundamental elements of Neo realism is what could be called a meson Sen style, that is to say, it’s committed to long takes, the poetic realism is interested in the external world and in the relation between characters and the outer world. And and and although it will use abrupt cuts of various kinds, it won’t do so at the expense of your experience of the outer world, it wants the audience to take in what it sees, and to make judgments about it, it doesn’t try to in the in the way that certain other kinds of styles might do to manipulate your response in quite the in in so dramatic away. And what follows from this means unsend style is what some scholars have called in camera editing, because what’s going on is because the camera, the tape look because
the camera is about the style is committed to long takes, what will happen is the camera will alter its focal length in its depth of field, or it will simply move and change it the the the object of its gaze while it is in operation. So then it’s instead of a series of cuts that are made in the editing room, in it’s the camera man working the camera who’s making certain decisions that in another kind of film would be made by a film editor after the fact. And this creates an effect of not exactly improvisation, but an effect of an effect that creates the impression that there’s a kind of sometimes at its most powerful, more compelling moments, as if the camera is actually almost a living witness to what it’s seeing. And it’s an responding in very nuanced and sometimes very abrupt ways to what it sees and hears. So there’s sometimes moments in in both poetic realist films and in Italian neorealist films in which a noise will occur, and you’ll suddenly see the camera turn to find out what the noise is, as if it as if the camera is humanized in this kind of what follows from that as the camera is not always but usually set in I level, it does not give a lot of fantastic distorting our angles of vision because it’s not interested in that kind of surreal or expressionist representation. So meezan Sen style in camera editing, a second fundamental feature would be filming on location, right? No more in studio is, there’s a kind of, there’s a kind of gross fundamental realism to these kinds of films, because they, because they use natural lighting, they in the instance, they insist or try to insist on them on themselves as, as actually photographing on world you recognize as real, not a world that has been artificially constructed in a studio in a studio space. What follows also from the location filming is a commitment to what might be called true light and sound, right? It’s very rare in these kinds of films to have external sound, the sound, even the music that comes up in many of these, in most of these films. This is a wonderful habit of Renoir himself, that sometimes you actually think that music is not a part of the drama, but then you discover it is almost all the music in Renoir’s films is, is part of the dramatic texture, it’s not imposed from the outside, it’s not, it’s not a soundtrack that doesn’t grow out of the action. So if you hear music in a Renoir film, I’ll show you an example of it in a moment from VUDU, it turns out that the music is being played by characters in the film, and you actually end up seeing them with their instruments. So true light and sound, and, and that, but what that also means is sometimes sound is obscured. Sometimes sound is is, is overlapped with other noises, sometimes dialogue is hard to hear, because there are noises in in the real world, we I noted that this was an aspect of a number of American directors in the in the post studio era, and especially in a film like McCabe, where altman does this kind of thing. And I think I think that it’s it’s, it’s very probable, even though I don’t know this for certain that altman himself went to school on these films and knew the experiments with sound with a treatment of sound that was characteristic of Renoir’s of Renoir’s films and other forms of attack of both French and, and Italian forms of realism, what was called realism, so and then, and then, two other features, one already implied in what I was saying, a camera that’s very fluid in emotion, not in gigantic motion, but very subtle kinds of motions. And if you watch Rick Warren’s camera, you’ll see that it’s almost constantly making these minute adjustments to what it’s looking at, or to what it will do, or to what it wants to see. And then And then finally, something I’ve already said, there’s a great emphasis on what could be called depth of field, that is to say, you’re aware of the dimensionality of the images you’re looking at. So there’s a background,
a middle ground and a foreground. And very often, you will see the camera change its focal length. And what will if the foreground was in in focus, you’ll actually experience the camera shifting its its focus, and bringing in the background that had been out of focus before. And the effect of this while it because it takes place within your experience of viewing it doesn’t take place hidden behind behind edits is to make you part of the process in some sense, again, to make you feel that the cameras behavior is a is a part of your experience of the film that you’re experiencing the film through a medium that has a kind of immense sensitivity to what it’s looking at, and immense respect for what it’s looking at. Well. So key features, let me just summarize them again, amazing, unsend style, which means in camera editing, especially filming on location, commitment to true light and sound, a fluid moving camera, commitment to depth of field, what we might call again, creating this tension between a kind of lyrical impulse, a kind of a kind of celebratory or a poetic impulses, some people have said, and an impossibly to, to denote the world to capture the world to describe or to dramatize the world fully. Well, I think I can show you or dramatize these principles more fully for you. If I give you some examples, but as a as a way of introducing this, I want to talk very quickly
formulation, immensely influential formulation about Renoir that I think you’ll find helpful and interesting. And these are lines that have been written about Renoir by the great critic Andre beza, who was a great champion of Renoir’s work, also a great champion of Italian Neo realism, and one of the great theorists of the of the cinema, and can capture, I think when I think that has captured something of Renoir’s importance in these passages from his book, titled genre noir published in 1971, no one has grasped the true nature of the screen better than Renoir so wrote, better, no one has more successfully read it of the equivocal of equivocal analogies with painting and the theater plastically, the screen is most often made to conform to the limits of the canvas, and dramatically it’s modeled on the stage, you see what he what he’s saying is he’s reminding us that when a new technology emerges, old habits are so deeply embedded that it’s very hard to free oneself from them, even though there’s nothing inherent in the new technology that requires you to see the world in the ways that the older systems did. And that is a period of transition that involves a period of experiment and discovery. What beza is saying here is that Renoir is one of the great pioneering discoverers, right? Because with these two traditional references in mind, directors have conceived their images as boxed within a rectangle, as do the painter and the stage director. And in fact, this still happens today with lazy or foolish directors, right? When you’re on the other hand, understands that the screen is not a simple rectangle, but rather the surface of the viewfinder of his camera. It is the opposite of a frame, right? There’s stuff that goes on outside the frame, if it’s looking right. This is a brilliant piece of writing, I think, technically, this conception of the screen assumes what I present I shall call lateral depth of field, lateral depth of field that is, but it’s an oxymoron I get a contradiction, but But how could there be a lateral, but what he means is that you become aware of things going on, on the margins of the of the of the visual of the visual field, even outside of what you can actually see. Since what we are showing is only significant in terms of what is hidden from us. And since the value of what we see is therefore continually threatened the knees and sin right what is put in the scene, right? That means I’m saying cannot live limit itself to what is presented on the screen. The rest of the scene, while effectively hidden, should not cease to exist. The action is not bounded by the screen but merely passes through it. And the person who enters the cameras field of vision is coming from other areas of the action and not from some Limbo or some from imaginary backstage, you get this thing how exciting This is, what a what a fundamental insight it is into the way a film can become compelling. And why it is that so many films might seem factitious to us despite the gross reality of the cinematic image. Likewise, the camera should be able to spin suddenly, Renoir is full of moments in which the camera will make wide swaths sometimes, sometimes 360 degree circle, sometimes 180 degree turns in order to remind us of what has not been in the frame of what is on the margins of the frame. So the cameras should be able to skim suddenly, without picking up any holes or dead spots in the action. Well, I want to give you two examples of this, which are among other things, instances of what I call put my outline backup instance of instances of what I call visual style as moral vision. And I’ll hopefully be explaining that term as we as we look at it. So the first clip I want to show you is from the film you’re going to see tonight it’s a way of alerting you to CRO qualities not just in this scene, but elsewhere in the film that I hope you’ll become much more attentive to because we’re taking the time to single them out now. So here is a scene from Are we ready? From from Grand illusion from relatively early this in the in the film now as I’ve told you this the film is about prisoner French prisoners of war. So here’s a scene the French these are prisoners but it’s the First World War they’re allowed to receive packages from their from from from in the mail and what quite what people what people that relatives and friends send them as food very often. All right, all right. Make it a little louder.
Not that it really
wants to the cameras behavior. Yeah. What can you freeze at one second? Look at look at the window there. Why is that significant? What do you notice in the window already movement right you see how And the way the scene began, we know where that character has come from. Even though these two characters are in confrontation and talking to each other, we’re aware of activity in the window behind them. We’re aware of other people in the room, it actually may seem as if it’s very easy to create this effect. But of course, it’s profoundly difficult. And Renoir is the pioneer in creating these, these kinds of effects how fluid the camera is, how, that’s what I want you to watch for your awareness of the fact of action that’s going on partly outside the frame. Alright, continue. Not
the man at the head table is the wealthiest of the prisoners and he gets the best food. So he shares it with his comrades. tremendously good meal for prisoners. This is the least violent war movie ever made.
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we love this method.
Are you notice how each of the characters is individuated in this, I don’t have time to talk about this. Watch it tonight. Maybe I’ll say a bit about it tonight, when I introduce the each one of them we can almost we can tell what social class they belong to, from their dress from their motive speak.
complexly, the camera examines the space that’s younger than one of the great set one of the central characters. One of the great French actors. All right, we have to stop this because I’m sorry, I have to cut this short. It’s a brilliant scene, watch for it tonight Come fairly early in the film, watch how each of the characters is individuated as the scene goes on how crowded The scene is, in one sense, how how you’re aware of activities and even conversations that are taking place outside the frame of the of the of the camera itself. And when the camera shifts over to one set of characters, you’re aware of other conversations that are that are ongoing, and was the sense of reality that this style creates, is profound and compelling. It seems to me a powerful, but I want to show you another an even more dramatic clip. Because partly because it comes from a film you’ve not seen it because and because it captures certain other qualities in in Renoir’s read in Ray Moore’s work. And this is this is the famous ending of buddhu saved from drowning. Let me set the scene for you while Christine’s getting it up. In this scene. This comes at the very end of the film. It’s the film is a satire and will do is a bum a close shot of whom there were 10s of 1000s, if not 10s of 1000s living in Paris during the era when the film was made, a kind of tramp, like like, like the character that the Chaplin figure plays in the American films, although Michelle Simone is a much more massive figure than Chaplin. And in the very beginning of the film, he plays this he, he seems to try, he jumps into the river to try to commit suicide because he’s lost his beloved dog. He’s a figure of despair, and a middle class bookseller, named listing wha, spying him through his spy glasses. He’s looking out of the out of his book, out of the windows of his of his bookshop, sees this bum. And first of all, what a perfect bum he thinks to himself. What a perfect embodiment of what a tramp is. And then he becomes upset when he sees the guy jumped into the river, and he runs out, dives into the river to save him and it turns into a kind of comic scene of saving people gather on the bridge and look down and so forth. He pulls him out, brings him into his home. His wife is very resentful of it. But eventually she adapt. And he moved into the middle class booksellers home and of course, he wreaks havoc there because he stands for nature itself. He can’t be civilized or tamed, right? He’s budos. So saved from the waters right? So he saved from the waters at the end, but as you’ll see at the beginning, but as you’ll see at the end of the film, he’s back to the waters. So he so what happens essentially is among other things, in the course of the story, this this figure of raw nature Turns out that he can’t quite be civilized. One of the things he does is he manages to have a love affair or to or to seduce. I shouldn’t call it a love affair, both less than GWAS mistress, a young maid who works in his house and his wife. And I kind of semi scandal occurs in which fire in which the in which the tramp character played by Michel Simo, wins the lottery and becomes very rich. So he then it very, a marriage of convenience is arranged, and he’s going to marry the maid that had been the booksellers mistress, and this sort of straightens everything out, because there have been some kind of scandal brewing. And then, and the final scene of the film is the wedding party, in which in which, in which buddhu, his new bride, the bookseller, and his wife are in a boat together celebrating the wedding. And of course, these images would have invoked Renoir pairs, films about the paintings very powerfully as
Many of genre wars treatment of films, sent in nature, are said to have been influenced in some ways by his father’s paintings. Or there’s Michel Simone and his new bride. You see how there’s music but it’s coming from source inside the story.
That’s the bookseller in the back with a white hat. Everything looks wonderful. I’m one thing I think one of these don’t want you to see this as, look how leisurely This is even. I mean, it was where’s it going? We are at the end of the movie yet now. And yet look how how the film, sort of almost as if it doesn’t even at this stage, doesn’t want to end doesn’t want to
Or he reaches for the flower. Now remember that he’s just been married? What’s happening to Where’s he going? You know, often when I show this to my classes, because I’m always worried about time. I get impatient here. But in fact, it’s a bad reaction because the film wants us to savor what it’s doing. Right? It can you feel that sort of lyrical tendency, just to sort of look at the world and its beauty. As if the impulse to tell a story and the impulse to photograph the world are in some degree in conflict, because the world keeps resisting the categories you put it in. The camera keeps discovering new things to look at. So here buddhu comes ashore. Think of how an archaic this vision of life is, because he’s just deserted his new bride and his new wedding and all that, right? Doesn’t seem to matter. He gets up on shore. He’s still wearing his wedding clothes. And this becomes then a highly symbolic moment.
He sees a scarecrow. Now he’s going to shed his middle class identity by changing clothes with it.
I suppose one fundamental aspect of the satire is he’s what what the film is saying is look, nature is always more untamed and difficult than middle class. romantics imagine. It’s not a terrible thing. Oh, here it comes. Eating is bread. Newly free again. identifies with the goat shares his food with the goat. Good day.
attention to the camera. Okay, shut it off. At one point in his book on bass sounds book on Renoir, he talks about this sequence. And I want to remind you that he talks about this sequence in an era before it was possible to easily replay movies, right? It was an era of long before videotape long before television, actually. And when you want to watch a movie again, you have to get projectors and show them. So very often when Batman was writing about his film, he was working from memory and he makes some technical mistakes. But he gets the essence of the scene, right? Listen to this. He says Renoir the moralist is also the most realistic of filmmakers, sacrificing reality as little as possible to the frost of his message. The last scenes from buddhu could serve as an epigraph to all of Renoir’s French work, will do newlywed froze himself into the water. Not exactly, it’s an accident, it’s important that it’s an accident. It’s not like he was planning his escape, right? Because he’s nature he doesn’t. He doesn’t think he stands for the natural, right? But but by accident, the book, the boat, overturns, and buddhu makes his his escape, because it’s possible to do so. It’s not as if it’s premeditated. That’s important, and dramatic or psychological logic would demand that such an act have a precise meaning. Is it despair or suicide? No, it’s not at all. In fact, it’s just an accident, we’ll do is Voodoo, without maybe even fully realizing it is trying to flee the chains of a bourgeois marriage. Renoir, like his character forgets the act in favor of the fact and the true object of the scene ceases gradually to be what to do intends, right. What is Boudou up to? Why is he doing this? I don’t even think he’s present is right even raised the question because what we think he’s doing is just enjoying himself. Right? Then it occurs to him when he gets on land that he’s free of his marriage, right.
More like his character forgets the act in favor of the fact that the true object of the scene ceases to be Buddha’s intentions and becomes the spectacle of his pleasure. and by extension, the enjoyment that reward derives, or we as viewers derive from the antics of his hero. The water is no longer water, but more specifically the water of the Marne a tributary of the sin in in August, Michelle Simone floats on it twins over sprays like a seal, and as he plays, we begin to perceive the depth, quality and even the tepid warmth of the water. When it comes up on the bank, an extraordinary slow, he calls it a 360 degree pan remember that final move the camera but it’s probably 180 degrees, he’s remembering it in perfectly, shows us the countryside he sees before him the world he sees before, but this effect by nature descriptive, which could indicate space and liberty regained is of an equal poetry because what moves us is not the fact that this countryside is once more again, Buddha’s domain, although that is one effect of it. We do is free and the camera shows the beauty and freedom of the world in that in that 180 degree pan, but that the banks of the mind and all their richness of detail are intrinsically beautiful and you’re aware of that aren’t you? At the end of the pan the camera picks up a bit of grass As we’re in close up one, one can see the dust that the heat and the wind have lifted from the path one can almost feel it between one’s fingers. If I were deprived of the pleasure of seeing buddhu, again for the rest of my days, I remember the first time I read those lines, and I realized what it meant to be a movie critic or a literary critic, think of what what what’s implied by that, if I were deprived of the pleasure of seeing Voodoo again for the rest of my life, as if this would be a deprivation, too horrible to contemplate, right? It made me realize my own vocation in a way, if I were deprived of the pleasure of seeing will do again for the rest of my days, I would never forget that grass, that dust and their relationship to the liberty of a tramp. The point of this exercise is to remind you of the immense power, the potency of even a single camera move. Think what that 180 degree pan suggests, as bizarre, brilliantly argues for us. So the conclusion then is that the visual style of a film of our certain films anyway, can express our moral vision and by moral vision, I don’t mean moralistic what’s more what’s what’s didactically right and wrong, but a vision are having to do with the values and assumptions you make about the nature of the world. There’s a moral vision implicit in the tentativeness, the hesitancy, the retarding impulse to dwell and linger on things in, in the in Renoir’s camera, and in the basic habits of, of poetic realism that you will see brilliantly embodied in the film you’re going to watch tonight. Grand illusion.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai