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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Sunday, November 11, 2012
2:00 p.m. Toni
Jean Renoir (France, 1934)

Imported 35mm Print!


Renoir shot Toni in Provence as a production of Marcel Pagnol’s studio in Marseille, using only real backgrounds and mostly nonprofessional actors, among whom the crew lived for a period of time. The story concerns an immigrant Spanish farmworker, Toni, and his relations with two women, one who loves him, one whom he loves. Made in 1934 on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, Toni captures the spirit of fraternity and fatalism with which Renoir viewed the working classes of the thirties. François Truffaut noted, “Renoir likes to point out that Toni . . . is the first neorealist film. In fact, what is striking about Toni is its dreamlike quality, the fantasy-like atmosphere surrounding a rather ordinary drama. Toni is . . . a tragedy in which the sun takes the place of fate.”

• Written by Renoir, Carl Einstein. Photographed by Claude Renoir. With Charles Blavette, Celia Montalvan, Jenny Hélia, Edouard Delmont. (90 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Janus/Criterion Collection)

Followed by:
A Day in the Country Imported 35mm Print!
Jean Renoir (France, 1936/46)

(Une partie de campagne). Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, A Day in the Country was the result of Renoir’s desire to make “a short film which would be made with the same care as a feature-length film.” Set in the mid-nineteenth century, its images alive with light and shadow, it evokes the Impressionist painters—in particular, the director’s father, Auguste Renoir—in describing a Paris family’s journey to the country and an impossible, short-lived love among the riverside reeds. Truly one of the great coming-of-age films—a film of awakening—it moves almost imperceptibly from gaiety to despair, from nostalgia to abject longing. Renoir’s assistants on the film included Luchino Visconti, Jacques Becker, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. “We were a bunch of friends, and it all seemed like a kind of happy vacation on the banks of a very pretty river,” Renoir wrote. Editing was interrupted by no fewer than five major films and a world war, and the finished A Day in the Country premiered in 1946.
—Judy Bloch

Written by Renoir, based on a story by Guy de Maupassant. Photographed by Claude Renoir. With Sylvia Bataille, Jane Marken, Gabriello, Georges Darnoux. (37 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)

Total running time: 127 mins