Picnic on the Grass (Jean Renoir / France, 1959):
(Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe)

The first dolly movement is stiff and literally drained of color, locked in boxed-in, black-and-white sterility along with the journalist who lays out the story; then a switch to Eastmancolor, and a spacious circular pan tilted up toward tree branches, upon which the opening credits appear. The split between civilization and nature is rigged thusly, or would've been, if it weren't for Jean Renoir reaping absurdity and sublimity from the two opposites: "I favor the dictatorship of scientists," declares one member of Doctor Paul Meurisse's entourage, "I'm all for nature," goes another. Meurisse runs for presidency of the continent, with artificial insemination the proposed future of mankind; a bucolic lunch is arranged with Teutonic fiancée Ingrid Nordine plus assorted repressed urbanites, staged mainly for press coverage ("symbolic of symbolic union"). À la campagne of striped muscle shirts, checkered dresses, and picturesque loafing, where peasant Jean-Pierre Granval believes in the equality of the sexes just so his wife can spray the grapevines for him; also the spot where Pierre Auguste spent his final days, the son playing loving tribute by presenting his own love for fleshy pinks and grassy greens. The mythology from the past sides with the forces of nature, so goat-herder Charles Blavette changes the weather through his pan-flute -- winds unchain the fauns and nymphs, mousy housewife Marguerite Cassan declares "I need an orgy!" and blooms into Catherine Hessling. The scientist, meanwhile, becomes beguiled by the figure ("Mediterranean, dolichocephalic") of farm gal Catherine Rouvel by the river; they disappear behind the tall grass to usher in the undulating fertility montage towards the wholeness of body and mind. Far from facile rehash of old themes, this is a no less experimental work than À Bout de Souffle and Pickpocket that same year -- the openness of Renoir's lambent style and the fragility of his idyll simultaneously illustrate nature and its transformation by art, the pun between evolution and revolution its lynchpin. An impressionistic incantation, an air-filled home movie by Renoir, and one of the few works to communicate the feeling of sunlight, its warmth and glow. With Fernand Sardou, Jacqueline Morane, Robert Chandeau, Micheline Gary, Ghislaine Dumont, Jacques Danoville, and Paulette Dubost.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home