Jean Renoir has often been dubbed – by both filmmakers and critics – as the greatest auteur. The richness and range of his production – variously described as “classic” and “modern,” quintessentially “French” and “universal” – are indeed remarkable. His experimental and narrative forays in the late-silent era, his bold appropriation of literary sources and of pictorial and theatrical models during the highs and lows of 1930s France, the continuities and breaks of his American work in the 1940s, and his subsequent return to French and international co-productions – all these form a complex creative biography, that embraces major shifts in film history while maintaining Renoir’s unique touch, his mastery of form, his conception of the social and the communal so often articulated through depth-of-field compositions and camera work. We shall explore Renoir’s exemplary works, attending to his interlacing of melodramatic, comedic, even farcical, as well as realist inspirations in their historical, political, and cultural contexts. Close viewing and analysis of the films will be accompanied by readings from the filmmakers’ own writings and interviews, criticism both contemporary to the films’ production as well as recent perspectives, and historical backgrounds.
All principal readings in English.