A Day in the Country (1936)

26 07 2008

Well, obviously, it is a bit difficult to assess what is only a thirty nine minute-long re-assemblage of Renoir’s original film, but still, this is pretty great. Oddly enough, it is almost a complete 180 from the previous year’s Toni, which I still consider my favorite Renoir. However, the different approach is similarly successful. This isn’t a deep character study with lots of psychology and development, but instead a quicker, but equally profound, “poetic” sensibility to the narrative. This is clearly the right route considering the film is so short to begin with, but the choice is given even more support by the poignant feeling underscoring every sequence.

A Parisian ironmonger takes his family on a trip to the country side and it is there that his daughter, Henriette, becomes the object of affection for Rodolphe. He convinces his buddy, Henri, to help mingle with Henriette and her mother, Juliette. Henri remains passive and reserved, while Rodolphe brings out as many charming bits of dialogue as possible. Despite his intentions, his witty manner impresses Juliette rather than Henriette. When the group decides to go boating, Henriette decides to tag along with Henri and the result is a tragedy of two would-be lovers never quite aware of their feelings, let alone how to express them.

There are a few films that Renoir’s short bears a heavy resemblance to. One of the most obvious being Picnic at Hanging Rock if only for the whole “day in the country” (hence the film’s title!) set-up, but thankfully Renoir never indulges in a goofy mystery story, but instead goes the route of a lost love type narrative, which I certainly prefer. This is where the film begins to show shades of Hiroshi Shimizu’s great Kanzashi, which is obviously not a problem at all. It’s good to finally be able to see the connection between Renoir and Shimizu outside of the fact they were both formally experimental. Not only is the story the same, but the way in which Renoir achieves cinematic poetry within such a limited aesthetic is astonishing in the same way the poetic moments in Shimizu’s film are. Really, the only problem with this film is that it is short, which makes it slightly less powerful, but with that said, I actually wouldn’t want it to be any longer.