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New Left Review I/25, May-June 1964

Lee Russell

Jean Renoir

In 1936, it is often forgotten, Jean Renoir made a propaganda film, La Vie est a nous, for the French Communist Party, starring Maurice Thorez, Jacques Duclos etc; in 1937, he made La Marseillaise for the Trade Union movement (cgt). Then the war and exile in Hollywood. The heady days of the Popular Front never returned. In 1950, he made The River in India (his last American film), explaining that, whereas before the war he had tried to raise ‘a protesting voice’, he now thought that both the times and he himself had changed: his new mood was one of ‘love’, of the ‘indulgent smile’. Following films seemed to confirm the trend: French-Cancan, Elena et les hommes. Betrayal? Or maturity? The critics split. One camp praised the pre-war Renoir, the Renoir ‘of the left’; the other praised post-war Renoir, the Renoir of ‘pure cinema’. One school, leaning on the authority of Andre Bazin, remembered ‘French’ Renoir; another, headed by the emerging critics of Cahiers du Cinema, heralded ‘American’ Renoir. As Renoir grew older, the Cahiers critics argued, he grew more personal, hence more of an author, a greater director. Debate turned acrimonious. Renoir, one anti-Cahiers critic wrote, ‘deified by imbeciles, has lost all sense of values’. And so on.

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Lee Russell, ‘Jean Renoir’, NLR I/25: £3

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