Movies In Focus

Introduction To Jean Renoir

During his career, Jean Renoir made over forty films that spanned from the silent era up until the end of the 1960s. In 2002 he was ranked as the fourth greatest director of all time by the BFI’s Sight & Sound poll of critics. Through his use of naturalism and his focus on class relationships Renoir was able to send political messages/make political points in a very nuanced way. Amongst the numerous honours Renoir accumulated throughout his life, he received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1975 for his contribution to the motion picture industry. As one of his hidden gems Le Crime De Monsieur Lange (restored to 4K quality) comes to Blu-ray, DVD and digital download this week, we take a look at Renoir’s greatest on-screen achievements.


  1. Boudu Saved From Drowning (Boudu Sauve Des Eaux) | 1932

Directed and written by Renoir, Boudu Saved from Drowning follows the story of a tramp (Boudu) saved by a bourgeois bookseller (Edouard Lestingois) who then decides to transform Boudu into a gentleman. This film captures class relationships in a satirical, comedy of manners kind of way. However, the anti-social behaviour that Boudu’s character shows when Lestingois attempts to turn him into a gentleman caused such outrage amongst the audiences at the time that police were called to several cinemas to restore order.

  1. Toni | 1935

Toni was released in 1935 and stars Charles Bavette, Celia Montalvan and Edouard Delmont. This film, both written and directed by Renoir, is one of the first examples of casting non-professional actors to star and using on-location shooting. Both techniques later influenced the Left Bank of the French New Wave movement. As the film follows blossoming romances between a group of immigrants working around a quarry and a farm in Provence, Toni is also considered to be a main influence for the Italian neorealist movement. Although this film is not considered to be one of Renoir’s most popular, it still receives positive reviews from critics.

  1. A Day In The Country (Partie de Campagne) | 1936

This French featurette accounts a love affair over a summer afternoon along the River Seine in 1860. A Day In The Country proves Renoirs talent as he was able to capture a wonderful, in-depth love story in only 40 minutes. This is said to be one of Renoir’s most impressionistic works as it captures beautiful, idyllic nature scenes and contrasts it alongside the harshness of urban society.

  1. Le Crime De Monsieur Lange | 1936

Le Crime of Monsieur Lange is based on the life of a clerk at a publishing company who fulfils his dream of writing Western stories when the head of his company fakes his own death. Through Renoir’s naturalistic style The Crime of Monsieur Lange makes social commentary through a romantic and thrilling story line and became strongly linked with the political left wing, so much so that the Communist Party requested Renoir to create propaganda films against fascism.

  1. The Lower Depths (Les Bas-Fond) | 1936

The Lower Depths is another example of Renoir using his naturalistic, comedic style to address social class relationships, focusing on the contrast between the life of the upper class and the lower class. This film won a National Board of Review, USA award for Top Foreign Film in 1937. This was the first time Renoir worked with Jean Gabin, who eventually made three more films with the French director.

  1. The Grand Illusion (La Grande Illusion) | 1937

The Grand Illusion is one of Jean Renoirs most influential films. Based on the book by British journalist, Norman Angell, the film explores class relationships among a small group of French officers who are prisoners of war during World War I. This film is considered to be one of the masterpieces of French cinema and one of the greatest films ever made.

  1. The Human Beast (La Bete Humaine) | 1938

The Human Beast is one of Renoir’s darkest films with a chilling storyline which involves murder, an unhappy marriage and a train engineer prone to violent outbursts. This film is said to be one of the earlier influences for Film Noir pictures in the 1940s-50’s and stars Jean Gabin. The Human Beast was nominated for Best Foreign Film at Venice Film Festival in 1939.

  1. The Rules of the Game (La Regle du Jeu) | 1939

This film was released when Renoir was at the peak of his career. La Regle du Jeu was considered to be one of the French directors most controversial films. Not only because it was the most expensive French film of its time, but also because of the message it sent was thought to be bad for the morale of the country with World War 2 looming. Despite its poor reception and banning by the French government, Renoir’s film was voted the 4th greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s 2012 critics poll.

  1. The Southerner (L’Homme du Sud) | 1945

This film is based on the novel Hold Autumn in Your Hand written by George Sessions Perry. The story follows a lower-class family struggling to start a cotton farm in Texas. L’Homme du Sud was the third of five films that Renoir directed whilst living in the US during the 1940s and is now considered by some to be a ‘Hollywood masterpiece’. This film was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Director, Best Sound and Best Music) and won Best Feature Film at Venice Film Festival in 1946.

  1. The River (Le Fleuve) | 1951

The River, set in Bengal in India, follows three young girls who become besotted with an older American soldier. This coming of age story was shot in Technicolor meaning that everything had to be done perfectly as there was a 5 months turnaround once sent to the lab. The River won the International Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 and went on to influence famous directors such as Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese.



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