Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Target #241: Partie de campagne / A Day in the Country (1936, Jean Renoir)

TSPDT placing: #147
Directed by: Jean Renoir
Written by: Jean Renoir (writer), Guy de Maupassant (short story)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

Last week I watched Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (1939) for the first time, and, while I quite enjoyed it, I felt rather distanced from the story, as though the film was so preoccupied with snappy characters and dialogue (as in a stage play) that it didn't bother with emotion or atmosphere, the evocation of time and place. Happily, this wasn't a problem with Partie de campagne / A Day in the Country (1936). Renoir's unfinished adaptation of a short story by Guy de Maupassant gains a wonderful personality through its on-location filming. Even though we ourselves never observe the oppressive, polluted Parisian streets, Claude Renoir's outdoor photography sweeps over us with the cool and cleansing touch of a fresh breeze, somehow translating into visuals the revitalising sensation of clean country air in one's lungs. Unfortunately, it was also this on-location shooting schedule that proved the film's demise, weather problems delaying and eventually leading to abandonment of production. The film was not released until 1946, faithfully edited together using the existing footage.
Renoir's film undoubtedly feels like an unfinished work, but what exists is nonetheless brilliant. Unlike many unfinished orstudio-butchered would-be masterpieces, that A Day in the Country was not completed to the director's satisfaction causes minimal detriment to the sequences that remain today. The narrative up until the "ending"is perfectly-structured and enjoyable to watch, all planned sequencesup until this point having presumably been filmed without incident. However, after Henri (Georges D'Arnoux) and Henriette (Sylvia Bataille) come together for the first time in a reluctant but passionate embrace, the story then jarringly cuts to a years-later epilogue, a wistful conclusion that reflects on events that seemingly never took place. "Every night I remember," confesses Henriette, as she meets her former one-time lover, having settled on marrying a scruffy imbecile (Paul Temps). But exactly what does she remember? There had been nothing in the film to suggest that she and Henri had fallen in love; this eventuality had always been implied, but never satisfactorily executed.
A strong cast – including André Gabriello, Jane Marken, Jacques B. Brunius and Renoir himself – bring lighthearted humour to their respective roles, but it is the budding romance (never quite realised) between D'Arnoux and Bataille that form's the story's heart. Following its eventual 1946 release, A Day in the Country was lauded as an "unfinished masterpiece," and I suppose that such a description is appropriate. Had filming been completed, such that the story followed through its intended and logical arc, I can only imagine what a powerful piece of cinema the film might have been. Have you ever had a wonderful dream from which you were woken prematurely? This is how I feel about A Day in the Country. Everything up until the hasty ending is funny, emotional, glorious, and invigorating, yet we're wrenched from the dream-like clasp of Renoir's hand unexpectedly and disappointingly. But I'm an optimist: we should simply be glad that this much of the film exists for us to enjoy. Reflecting on what might have been is a task that should ideally be left to movie characters.

Currently my #4 film of 1936:
1) Modern Times (Charles Chaplin)
2) After the Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke)
3) Swing Time (George Stevens)
4) Partie de campagne {A Day in the Country} (Jean Renoir)
5) Follow the Fleet (Mark Sandrich)
6) Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock)
7) Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra)
8) Secret Agent (Alfred Hitchcock)
9) Intermezzo (Gustaf Molander)
10) My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava)


Marin Mandir said...

Interesting review. It sounds like an interesting film.

Lauren said...

I did indeed stumble here, and very glad I did! This is a great project, and your reviews are a wonderful document of it. I love the ongoing lists at the bottom of each post. I look forward to browsing around a bit. :)

ackatsis said...

Hi Lauren,
Thanks for stumblin' in! I'm certainly not the only poor soul attempting the "They Shoot Pictures" Top 1000, but I like to think I'm doing my best.

Please have a look around, keep in touch, and be sure to make regular recommendations.

ackatsis said...

Hi Marin,
It's certainly a nice film. If you're into Renoir, then it's a must.
If you're not yet into Renoir (as was the case with me a month or so ago), then it'll be one of your first stops.