While World War I rages on many miles north, Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir maintains a tight regiment of daily painting while under the care of a dedicated stable of maids who were former lovers and models. His eldest sons left for the war and his youngest roams the forest by day, exempt from school to study at home. This is Renoir, a 2013 French biopic about passing the torch from the renowned painter struggling to complete his late career with rheumatoid arthritis, to his son who looks for meaning in life as he enters and leaves war, only to later become a celebrated filmmaker. Yet, there is an Oedipal narrative that arises, but with a muse that will invigorate their respective careers.

In 1915, not too long after Mrs. Renoir has passed away, Andreé Heuschling (Christa Theret) has wandered on to the Renoir estate in Côte d’Azur. She simply walks into the mansion estate claiming that Mrs. Renoir had invited her to be Pierre-Auguste’s (Michel Bouquet) new nude model. The pre-pubescent Claude (Thomas Doret), or Coco as he likes to be called, has also found some interest in her as well. Andreé’s entrance into the Renoir estate and into Auguste’s late work has brought about a new fire in the downtrodden men of the estate. When Jean (Vincent Rottiers) arrives home from the front with an injury, the romantic triangle has become a complicated quadrangle.

Pierre-Auguste mentions a “cork theory” several times in the film in order to represent a cork taken away by the rhythm of the river. It is actually a very Zen-like theme of romanticism; that life and nature flow without decision and simply let things move and pass as they were.  Like most father-son generational revolts, Jean saw things differently. The cork needed guidance. He was soaked in fatalism, and was passionate about his role in the war, despite his injury. This fatalism would become Jean’s own dogma to live by, although, strangely enough, Jean’s later films would be seen as anti-war as he aligned himself with the Popular Front as the threat of WWII arose.

The film fuses both Jean’s Poetic Realism and Pierre-Auguste’s Impressionistic style in order to show that their works have benefited our modern cinema greatly. There are shots where the camera drifts about, allowing for the delicate moments of beauty to reveal themselves at that right moment. Such as when Andreé enters through the gates of the Renoir estate to see bursts of sunrays through the cloud of dust and sand kicked up by the wind for a metaphoric welcoming of beauty and change. One final shot of a scene with Auguste painting by the river with his family and his maids has the camera pan away and lose focus. This is no transitory device, but this particular shot melds and subverts the individual elements that made both the Renoirs famous. It is so out of focus that it replicates Auguste’s impressionist paintings and the changing light that they represent, but it also forces us to concentrate on the lack of focus, a subversion of Jean Renoir’s iconic deep focus that would become industry standard. It is the utmost perfect way to pay homage to these artists while playfully challenging the mediums the Renoirs had mastered.

The three Renoirs that make up the film all see war in different forms, just as they see love. Auguste is rationally against the war, or at least seeing his two eldest sons go off to war. Jean is in love with war, ready to return the moment his leg has healed even slightly, seemingly only to gain a better understanding of where his own cork fits. Then there is Coco, who covers his wall with photos of a war that he himself has not witnessed. The three will have a romantic interest in Andreé, each representing a different stage of lust: puberty, actualization, and the despair of old age. When Andree becomes frustrated by the hierarchy and achronological order of seniority at the Renoir estate within the maids and models, as well as the controlling nature of three Renoirs, she finally ends up screaming that she is sick of the Renoirs. It is a humorous but poetic line as Western culture is quite indebted the brilliance of their output.

The role of labor in the film is rather present. Auguste even mentions that no work has been done if nothing has been created. For Andreé, work is her last concern, which would eventually distance her from the maids who were satisfied with either working themselves up to or down from being a model for Auguste. Instead of “work,” Andreé wants to desperately be an actress, reciting the false wisdom she has heard from around town about how to go about doing so, similarly to how we think we learn about filmmaking from commentary tracks and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Renoir essentially conveys the generational transition of an artistic dynasty. Andreé’s role just happens to be that of the last model for Auguste and the first actress for Jean’s films. Her role in their work is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy; she never worked in Auguste’s sense of the word. Perhaps that is why she has been relegated to the margins of history, where the Renoirs constantly fought with the conventions of their art and politics. Director Gilles Bourdos has beautifully presented a rather strange tale of the Renoirs using the very aesthetic advancements developed in their respective careers, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is fitting and appropriate for conveying the beauty and confusion that these men and one woman endure.