Pick of the week: “Renoir“: My full review is here. The legendary painter in his late years is the subject of this French biopic, but the real star is the colors, the frame dappled with gorgeous orange and vermillion that the artist himself would have envied. Aside from the arresting visual poetry of the film, it’s otherwise an agreeable but shallow look, as the painter’s son (who will one day become “Rules of the Game” filmmaker Jean Renoir) falls for one of dad’s nude models.
“Renoir” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:51, three stars out of four
If only Pierre-Auguste Renoir had the colors at his disposal that director Gilles Bourdos has in making a movie about him. The French drama, set at Renoir’s country estate on the French Riviera, practically vibrates with beautiful colors, mostly bright oranges intertwining with deep greens. One shot, in which the famous Impressionist painter dips a dirty brush in a clear glass of water, and the vermillion paint swirls like flames inside the glass, is so gorgeous you almost have to look away.
It’s that eye-popping surface that is the real star of “Renoir,” although the film is an agreeable if shallow look at the great artist in the twilight of his years. At 74, Renoir (Michel Bouquet) is confined to a wheelchair; he could probably still walk, but it would take a lot of effort, and that effort he wants to pour into his last paintings. Renoir is prone to grand pronouncements about the nature of art, such as the prettiness of his paintings (“There are enough disagreeable things in life. I don’t need to create more.”) but beneath that crusty facade is a man with a purely carnal streak, obsessed with the glow and texture of a woman’s skin. His household is full of former models, who became maids as they aged, and it’s understood that Renoir knew more than one of them in an artistic sense.
The latest model to come to him is Andree (Christa Theret), a beautiful and tempestuous young woman who inspires him on the canvas and in his heart. The film lingers on scenes of Renoir painting her, and the process is quite fascinating to watch, as he draws quick brushstroke curves on the canvas, seeming to will them to converge into the natural curves of the human form.
Then Renoir gets another visitor, his middle son Jean (Vincent Rottiers). Jean is on leave after being injured in World War I, and yearns to be back with his comrades on the front lines. Cinephiles will know that Jean someday becomes a great film director (“Rules of the Game,” which just played at UW Cinematheque a couple of weeks ago). But there’s not really much more than a hint of that in “Renoir,” other than the dreamy look Jean gets on his face when he sees a silent film projected on the wall.
Jean and Andree fall for each other, of course, and I found their whole romance kind of trite, especially when they tussle about whether he should go back to the war. Pierre-Auguste is by far the most interesting Renoir of the bunch, and “Renoir” is much better in those quiet, lovely scenes of him painting, his crinkled eyes observing, the occasional pronouncement croaking forth from somewhere deep beyond that majestic beard. Bouquet makes him an imposing figure, but finds a twinkling humor beneath his fearsomeness.
When his doctor asks him what he’ll do when his hands are too old and shaky to paint with, Renoir responds flatly, “I’ll paint with my dick.” Which, the film suggests, he always has.
I don’t care if it is dropping 14 inches of snow on northern Wisconsin. It’s May 3, and dang it, we’re going to start the summer movie season whether the weather is on board or not!
“Iron Man 3” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance, Cinema Cafe) – I couldn’t have felt more let down by “Iron Man 2” (“Bring me bird.”), which combined two uninspired villains, some weak action, and some labored set-ups for the big Marvel crossover. But “The Avengers” was a ton of fun that restored my faith in Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, and the fact that “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”‘s Shane Black is behind this one has my hopes pretty high.
“The Angels’ Share” (Sundance) — My full review is here. Ken Loach’s latest film starts off as a miserablist drama about deliquent Scotsmen, then turns into a zippy heist film involving a precious cask of whisky halfway through. It’s not his best, but it’s an endearing film nonetheless, right down to the subtitles to help us get through those thick Scottish burrs.
“Renoir” (Sundance) — The name in this French drama, fresh from the Wisconsin Film Festival, refers to both the impressionist painter Philippe-August and his filmmaker son Jean. At the family home on the French Riviera that’s almost too achingly beautiful to behold, father and son reunite and spar over the mysterious young woman who comes to inspire both.
“Amour” (Union South Marquee, 6:30 p.m.) — My full review is here. The closest thing Michael Haneke will ever make to a sentimental film is this largely unsentimental look at an elderly Parisian couple, and what happens when the wife falls chronically ill. Haneke wants his audience to face the fact that we’re all going to die, many of us badly, but love might provide a little comfort along the way. Free!
“Classe Tous Risques” (UW Cinematheque, 7 p.m.) — In this 1960 French film noir, a thief (Lino Ventura) teams up with a new partner (Jean-Paul Belmondo) but learns too late that there’s more to life than crime. Free!
“Silver Linings Playbook” (Union South Marquee, 9:30 p.m.) — My full review is here. Writer-director David O. Russell messes with the romantic comedy genre much as he did with the sports movie in “The Fighter,” roughing up the formula even as he still delivers the same beats. The result is a screwball comedy for the age of anti-depressants, with winning performances and a generosity of spirit all around. Free!
“Birdemic: Shock and Terror” (Union South Marquee, midnight) –This shockingly inept low-budget horror film rips off “The Birds” in its ecologically-minded tale of avians gone amok, which make noises like World War II fighter planes as they dive-bomb citizens, spitting acid. The film is an unintentional riot, full of terrible acting and cheap special effects. I kind of love it. Free!
“Silver Linings Playbook” (Union South, 7 and 9:30 p.m.) — See Friday listing
“Marriage Italian Style” (UW Cinematheque, 7 p.m.) — One of the classics of Italian cinema, Vittorio De Sica’s caustic film about marriage and infidelity stars screen legends Marcello Mastrioianni and Sophia Loren. Free!
“The World’s Fastest Indian” (Barrymore Theatre, 8 p.m.) — Anthony Hopkins plays a bit against type as Burt Munro, a New Zealander obsessed with tinkering with motorcycles and making them faster, and dreaming of entering a race. Tickets are $8 in advance through barrymorelive.com or $10 at the door, and there’s a party with a cash bar afterward.
“Birdemic; Shock and Terror” (Union South Marquee, midnight) — See Friday listing
“The Cat Returns” (UW Chazen, 2 p.m.) — The UW Cinematheque at the Chazen series on Studio Ghibli is winding down, but not before this charming animated film about a bored teenager who must stop the cat king from turning her into a feline. Free!
“Silver Linings Playbook” (Union South Marquee, 3 p.m.) — See Friday listing
“Forward” (Sundance Cinemas, 4 p.m.) — The premiere was sold out, but tickets remain for this encore presentation of this stirring documentary about the 2011 Capitol protests, mixing interviews with participants and time-lapse photos of the event itself.
“Bag It!” (Barrymore Theatre, 7 p.m.) — Madison East High’s Mass Media class presents this thoughtful documentary about the impact of using plastic bags on the environment, and the value of using cloth ones instead. Tickets are only $5 for students, $10 for all others.
“Alien” (Sundance Cinemas, 1:30 and 6:45 p.m.) — This film was reliable nightmare fuel for me as a kid, putting a nasty twist on familiar science-fiction themes.
“The Italian Job” (Union South Marquee, 7 p.m.) — The original heist film features Michael Caine, Benny Hill and three Mini Coopers in a daffy caper plot. Free!
“Tommy” (Union South Marquee, 6:45 p.m.) — That deaf, dumb and blind kid still plays a mean pinball in The Who’s phantasmagoric 1975 musical, packed with all-stars. Free!
“Django Unchained” (Union South Marquee, 9:15 p.m.) — Quentin Tarantino mashes up the Western and the blaxploitation film to intense and funny effect in this dizzyingly entertaining film, his best since “Jackie Brown.” Free!