Handsome period drama about Renoir's muse that lacks dramatic clout
French writer-director Gilles Bourdos’ handsome period drama unfolds in 1915 on the verdant French Riviera estate of the impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Despite grieving for his late wife and being crippled by arthritis, Renoir (Michel Bouquet) finds himself artistically revived by the arrival of a new muse, the red haired, voluptuous teenager Andrée (Christa Theret), whose skin, he observes, 'soaks up the light'. His second son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) has returned to the family home, having been badly wounded in the war, and Renoir fils is romantically drawn to the outspoken Andrée who herself dreams of becoming a movie actress.
Despite the title, it’s the female model - who in real life married Jean and starred in 15 of his silent films under the name Catherine Hessling - who is the pivotal character here. Theret makes a powerful impression; not just for her radiant beauty, but also for the way she captures Andree’s abrasiveness and refusal to accept her lowly station in society. The film however, which uses numerous canvases by convicted art forger Guy Ribes as stand-ins for Renoir‘s own paintings, is overly dependent on the beauty of its Edenic setting, which is lushly photographed by Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee. Dramatically it feels oddly becalmed, with the potentially interesting figure of Jean’s teenaged half-brother Coco (Thomas Doret from The Kid with a Bike) drifting in and out of the story, whilst the screenplay is too reliant in terms of dialogue on aphorisms about art.
Limited release from Fri 28 June.