Jean Renoir

Jean Renoir

Infobox Actor
bgcolour = silver
name = Jean Renoir

imagesize = 190px
caption = Jean Renoir aged 45
birthdate = birth date|1894|9|15|mf=y
location = Paris, France
deathdate = death date and age|1979|2|12|1894|9|15|mf=y
deathplace = Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
birthname =
academyawards = Academy Honorary Award
1975 Lifetime Achievement
awards = NBR Award for Best Director
1945 "The Southerner"
spouse = Catherine Hessling (1920–1930)
Dido Freire (1944–1979)

Jean Renoir (French IPA2|ʁəˈnwaʁ) (September 15, 1894February 12, 1979), born in the Montmartre district of Paris, France, was a film director, actor and author. He was the second son of Aline Charigot and the French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He was also the brother of Pierre Renoir, a noted French stage and film actor; the uncle of Claude Renoir, a cinematographer; and the father of Alain Renoir, a professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley.

As a film director and actor, he made over 40 films from the silent era to the end of the 1960s. As an author, he wrote the definitive biography of his father, "Renoir, My Father" (1962).

Early life and career

When Jean Renoir was a child, he moved with his family to the south of France. He and the rest of the Renoir family were the subjects of many of his father's paintings. His father's financial success ensured that the young Renoir was educated at fashionable boarding schools which, as he later wrote, he was continually running away from.

At the outbreak of World War I Renoir was serving in the French cavalry. Later, after receiving a bullet in his leg, he served as a reconnaissance pilot. His leg injury left him with a permanent limp, but allowed him to discover the cinema, where he used to recuperate with his leg elevated while watching the films of Charlie Chaplin and others. After the war, Renoir followed his father's suggestion and tried his hand at making ceramics, but he soon set that aside in order to make films, inspired by Erich von Stroheim's work.

In 1924, Renoir directed the first of his nine silent films, most of which starred his first wife, who was also his father's last model, Catherine Hessling. At this stage his films did not produce a return, and Renoir gradually sold paintings inherited from his father to finance them.

International success in the 1930s

During the 1930s Renoir enjoyed great success as a filmmaker. In 1931 he directed his first sound films, "On purge bébé" and "La Chienne" ("The Bitch"). The following year he made "Boudu Saved From Drowning" ("Boudu sauvé des eaux"), which was strongly influenced by Chaplin's Little Tramp character. Here, Michel Simon, playing a vagrant, is rescued from the River Seine and taken in by a bookseller. The materialist, bourgeois milieu of the bookseller and his family is contrasted with the simple, happy-go-lucky personality of the tramp.

By the middle of the decade Renoir was associated with the Popular Front, and several of his films, such as "The Crime of Monsieur Lange" ("Le Crime de Monsieur Lange", 1935) and "La Vie Est a Nous" ("People of France") (1936) reflect the movement's politics. In 1937 he made one of his most well-known films, "Grand Illusion" ("La Grande Illusion"), starring Erich von Stroheim and the immensely popular Jean Gabin. A pacifist film about a series of escape attempts by French POWs during World War I, the film was enormously successful but was also banned in Germany, and later in Italy after having won the "Best Artistic Ensemble" award at the Venice Film Festival. This was followed by another cinematic success: "The Human Beast" ("La Bête Humaine"), a film noir tragedy based on the novel by Émile Zola and starring Simone Simon and Jean Gabin.

In 1939, now able to finance his own films, Renoir made "The Rules of the Game" ("La Règle du Jeu"), a satire on contemporary French society with an ensemble cast. Renoir himself played the character Octave, a sort of master of ceremonies in the film. The film was greeted with derision by Parisian audiences upon its premiere and was extensively reedited by his partner and editor Marguerite, on Renoir's behalf, but without success. It was his greatest commercial failure. A few weeks after the outbreak of World War II, the film was banned. The ban was lifted briefly in 1940, but after the fall of France it was banned again, along with "La Grande Illusion". Subsequently the original negative of the film was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid. It was not until the 1950s that two French film enthusiasts, with Renoir's cooperation, were able to reconstruct a complete print of the film. Today "The Rules of the Game" appears frequently near the top of critic's polls as one of the best films ever made.

Hollywood years

A week after the disastrous premiere of "The Rules of the Game", Renoir went to Rome with his new partner Dido Freire, subsequently his second wife, to work on the script for a film version of "Tosca". This he abandoned to return to France just before the declaration of World War II, to make himself available for military service. At the age of 45, he became a lieutenant in the Army Film Service, and was sent back to Italy, to teach film at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, and resume work on "Tosca". The French government hoped that this cultural exchange would help to maintain friendly relations with Italy, which had not yet entered the war. When Germany invaded and occupied France in May 1940, however, he was recalled to France and then fled to the United States, followed by Dido. In Hollywood, Renoir had difficulty finding projects that suited him. In 1943, he produced and directed an anti-Nazi film set in France, "This Land Is Mine", starring Maureen O'Hara and Charles Laughton. Two years later, he made "The Southerner", a film about Texas sharecroppers that is often regarded as his best work in America and one for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Directing.

In 1946, Renoir became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In that year he made "Diary of a Chambermaid", an adaptation of the Octave Mirbeau novel, "Le Journal d'une femme de chambre", starring Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith. "The Woman on the Beach" (1947) starring Joan Bennett and Robert Ryan was heavily reshot and reedited after it fared poorly among preview audiences in California. Both films were poorly received and were the last films Renoir made in America.

A transatlantic life

In 1949 Renoir traveled to India and made "The River", his first color film. Based on the novel of the same name by Rumer Godden, the film is both a meditation on human beings' relationship with nature and a coming of age story of three young girls in colonial India. The film won the International Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1951.

After returning to work in Europe, Renoir made a trilogy of Technicolor musical comedies on the subjects of theater, politics and commerce: "Le Carrosse d'or" ("The Golden Coach") (1953) with Anna Magnani, "French Cancan" with Jean Gabin and Maria Felix (1954) and "Eléna et les hommes" (Elena and Her Men) with Ingrid Bergman and Jean Marais (1956). During the same period, Renoir produced in Paris the Clifford Odets play, "The Big Knife", and wrote and produced in Paris for Leslie Caron his own play, "Orvet". Renoir's next films were made in 1959 using techniques Renoir adapted from live television at the time. The former was filmed on the grounds of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's home in Cagnes-sur-Mer and the latter film was made in the streets of Paris and its suburbs.

In 1962 Renoir made what was to be his penultimate film, "Le Caporal épinglé" ("The Elusive Corporal") with Jean-Pierre Cassel and Claude Brasseur. Set among French POWs during their internment in labor camps by the Nazis during World War II, the film explores the twin human needs for freedom, on the one hand, and emotional and economic security, on the other.

In 1962, Renoir published a loving memoir of his father, "Renoir, My Father", in which he described the profound influence his father had on him and his work. As funds for his film projects were becoming harder to obtain, Renoir continued to write screenplays and then wrote a novel, "The Notebooks of Captain Georges", published in 1966. "Captain Georges" is the nostalgic account of an aristocrat's sentimental education and love for a peasant girl. The book continues the same theme explored earlier in the films "Diary of a Chambermaid" and "Picnic on the Grass".

Last years

Renoir made his last film in 1969, "Le Petit théâtre de Jean Renoir" ("The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir"). In sympathy with the student demonstrations at the time, Renoir's original title for the film was "It's a Revolution!" The film is a series of four short films made in a variety of styles with one unifying theme. In Renoir's words, "The pitcher goes so often to the well that eventually it breaks."Fact|date=July 2007 Thereafter, unable to find financing for his films and in declining health, Renoir spent the last years of his life receiving friends at his home in Beverly Hills and writing novels and his memoirs.

In 1973 Renoir was preparing a production of his stage play "Carola" with Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer when he fell ill and was unable to direct. The producer Norman Lloyd, a friend and actor in "The Southerner", took over the direction of the play.

In his memoirs "My Life and My Films" (1974) Renoir wrote of the influence exercised upon him by his cousin, Gabrielle Renard, the woman seen in the portrait by his father above. Shortly before his birth, she came to live with the Renoir family, and helped raise the young boy. She introduced him to the Guignol puppet shows in the Montmartre of his childhood: " [s] he taught me to see the face behind the mask and the fraud behind the flourishes", he wrote. He concluded his memoirs with the words he had often spoken as a child, "Wait for me, Gabrielle."

In 1975 he received a lifetime Academy Award for his contribution to the motion picture industry and that same year a retrospective of his work was shown at the National Film Theatre in London. In 1977, the government of France elevated him to the rank of commander in the Legion of Honor.

Jean Renoir died in Beverly Hills, California on February 12, 1979. His body was returned to France and buried beside his family in the cemetery at Essoyes, Aube, France.


On his death, fellow director and friend Orson Welles wrote an article for the "Los Angeles Times", "Jean Renoir: The Greatest of all Directors". [ [ Welles, Orson] . The Orson Welles Web Resource, 1979. Last accessed: January 4, 2008.]

Jean Renoir has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6212 Hollywood Blvd. Several of his ceramics were collected by Albert Barnes and can be found on display beneath his father's paintings at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania.


*1924 : "Backbiters" ("Catherine ou Une vie sans Joie", also acted)
*1925 : "Whirlpool of Fate" ("La Fille de l'eau")
*1926 : "Nana"
*1927 : "Charleston Parade" ("Sur un air de charleston")
*1927 : "Une vie sans joie" (second version of "Backbiters")
*1927 : "Marquitta"
*1928 : "The Sad Sack" ("Tire-au-flanc")
*1928 : "The Tournament" ("Le Tournoi dans la cité")
*1928 : "The Little Match Girl" ("La Petite Marchande d'allumettes")
*1929 : "Le Bled"
*1931 : "On purge bébé"
*1931 : "Isn't Life a Bitch?" ("La Chienne")
*1932 : "Night at the Crossroads" ("La Nuit du carrefour")
*1932 : "Boudu Saved from Drowning" ("Boudu sauvé des eaux")
*1932 : "Chotard and Company" ("Chotard et Cie")
*1933 : "Madame Bovary"
*1935 : "Toni"
*1936 : "A Day in the Country" ("Une partie de campagne", also acted)
*1936 : "The People of France" ("La vie est à nous", also acted)
*1936 : "The Lower Depths" ("Les Bas-fonds")
*1936 : "The Crime of Monsieur Lange" ("Le Crime de Monsieur Lange")
*1937 : "The Grand Illusion" ("La Grande illusion")
*1938 : "The Marseillaise" ("La Marseillaise")
*1938 : "The Human Beast" ("La Bête humaine", also acted)
*1939 : "The Rules of the Game" ("La Règle du jeu", also acted)
*1941 : "Swamp Water" ("L'Étang tragique")
*1943 : "This Land Is Mine" ("Vivre libre")
*1944 : "Salute to France" ("Salut à la France")
*1945 : "The Southerner" ("L'Homme du sud")
*1946 : "The Diary of a Chambermaid" ("Le Journal d'une femme de chambre")
*1947 : "The Woman on the Beach" ("La Femme sur la plage")
*1951 : "The River" ("Le Fleuve")
*1953 : "The Golden Coach" ("Le Carrosse d'or")
*1955 : "French Cancan"
*1956 : "Elena and Her Men" ("Elena et les hommes")
*1959 : "The Testament of Doctor Cordelier" ("Le Testament du docteur Cordelier")
*1959 : "Picnic on the Grass" ("Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe")
*1962 : "The Elusive Corporal" ("Le Caporal épinglé")
*1969 : "The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir" ("Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir")

elected Writings

* "Orvet", Gallimard 1955, play.
* "Renoir", Hachette 1962 ("Renoir, My Father"), biography.
* "Les Cahiers du Capitaine Georges", Gallimard 1966 ("The Notebooks of Captain Georges"), novel.
* "Ma Vie et mes Films", Flammarion 1974 ("My Life and My Films"), autobiography.
* "Ecrits 1926-1971" (Claude Gauteur, ed.), Pierre Belfond, 1974, writings.
* "Carola", in "L'Avant-Scène du Théatre" no. 597, November 1, 1976, screenplay.
* "Le Coeur à l'aise", Flammarion 1978, novel.
* "Julienne et son amour", Henri Veyrier 1978, screenplay.
* "Jean Renoir: Entretiens et propos" (Jean Narboni, ed.), Editions de l'étoile/Cahiers du Cinéma 1979, interviews and remarks.
* "Le crime de l'Anglais", Flammarion 1979, novel.
* "Geneviève", Flammarion 1980, novel.
* "Œuvres de cinéma inédités" (Claude Gauteur, ed.), Gallimard 1981, synopses and treatments.
* "Lettres d'Amerique" (Dido Renoir and Alexander Sesonske, eds.), Presses de la Renaissance 1984, correspondence.
* "Renoir on Renoir: Interviews, Essays, and Remarks" (Carol Volk, tr.), Cambridge University Press 1989.
* "Jean Renoir: Letters" (David Thompson and Lorraine LoBianco, eds.), Faber & Faber 1994, correspondence.


* Prix Louis Delluc, for "Les Bas-Fonds" ("The Lower Depths"), 1936
* Chevalier de Légion d'honneur, 1936
* International Jury Cup, Venice Biennale, for "La Grande Illusion", 1937
* New York Critics Award, for Swamp Water, 1941
* Best Film, Venice Festival, for "The Southerner", 1946
* Venice Film Festival: International Award "The River", 1951
* Grand Prix de l'Academie du Cinéma for "French Cancan", 1956
* Prix Charles Blanc, Academie Française, for "Renoir, My Father", biography of father, 1963
* Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, University of California, Berkeley, 1963
* Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1964
* Osella d'Oro, Venice Festival, 1968
* Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Royal College of Art, London
* Special Oscar for Career Accomplishment, 1975
* Commandeur de Légion d'honneur, 1977


External links

* [ Jean Renoir: A Bibliography of Materials in the University of California at Berkeley Library.]
* [ Interview conducted in 1960 with Columbia University's Oral History Research Office.]
* [ Je m’appelle Jean Renoir. Site at the University of Nancy, France. (In French)]
* Faulkner, Christopher. " [ An Archive of the (Political) Unconscious] " "Canadian Journal of Communication" [Online] , 26 1 Jan 2001 — analysis of Renoir's FBI files.

NAME= Renoir, Jean
DATE OF BIRTH= 1894-9-15
PLACE OF BIRTH= Paris, France
DATE OF DEATH= 1979-2-12
PLACE OF DEATH= Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.

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