Friday, April 20, 2012

Like you, I do not wish this to be a posting on Jean Renoir

Like you, I am alerted to wince these days, when I encounter a passing reference to genius, for dread that the comment will be generically negligent and simply unwashed, a de facto slap in the face which is so characteristic of our post-Reagan culture. There is nothing like an arduous physical convalescence to restore one's belief in pillars - Normandy butter, scorched crusts of pungent San Francisco sourdough, slowly scrambled farm fresh eggs. I cite for you its turbulent model, the dreamer and a face that he had trusted, to signal it is safe to think of Jean Renoir.

Skinnysailors and their Bernese dog may spare us the portrait of Michel Simon from Boudu sauvé des eaux (Boudu Saved from Drowning, 1932) lest it fail to match our memory of this sweetest of Renoir's masterpieces. Hopefully, the 'clumsy' jests of Simon's scourging bête-noir of the bourgeoisie will suggest themselves in analogous mirth and warmth.

I "screened" a scrubbed facsimile of this film the other night, right here on this little laptop, completely stripped of those clicks and pops and the humane gathering with others beneath a 16mm projector of Janus reels which would so disturb the cinéaste of our time; and I must say, the perfectly buffed textures of the medium did not detract from the vividness of the underlying art. Whether new viewers will respond to Renoir's genius for modeling the clay of pure poetry in imagery, I can't guess, but they will see the work revealed more clearly than I ever did.

We don't do bouquets for guys in Virginia, confined to surgery's penalty box for weeks on end. One can get by surprisingly well on a well-stocked library of French cinema and French cuisine; and in case any reader might be fancying a new bloodstream, may I commend the endless antidotes of the Larousse Gastronomique, now in a new edition, which stood me so well through a collegiate sophomore year, when the appetites and pains of incarceration converge in classic concentration. I had ample time, just now, to ransack these sublime temptations of France in perfect peace, quite as much as Boudu trashed the household of the Lestingois, to its betterment through play.

Ultimately, the reason we don't wish this posting to be about Jean Renoir is that there is probably nothing less polite than a patient who has exploited his agonies to his advantage. I recommend the wearing of any restored sense of confidence in the loosest-fitting way, so that when clarifying butter with friends, for example, the presence of mind to make it a crisis will not have been lost. At the same time, the mention of either Renoir conjures, in its very sound, an affront of dangerous awareness, so perhaps it is just as well that our former "pleasure dome" of the cinema has been balkanised into laptop sequestrations. It doesn't mean that one may not heal, I don't suppose. 

And by the same token, to lie patiently, perfecting the invalided posture is only to cultivate a sound defense, against the canard of strengthening oneself in ostracism. It's only natural for society to object if one should be restored by enduring the very bêtise of discomfort it cannot bear to observe; and so only the most asymmetrical of tanlines can be countenanced on one's return. A disorderly T, a baggy speedo are just the things to shape the new complexion as one basks as Boudu did, in the comforts of the floor over the bed, the outdoors over the shelter. Let the hypocrisies of misery work both ways, Renoir proposes genially, and let the night be Friday if it must.

How it can be, as Renoir shows repeatedly in his cinema, that the turbulence of satire can resolve itself as the image of trust, is not a question to detain us from admiring that it is done. But, having begun with it as our model it is only seemly to conclude with statistical confidence in its proof. A handful of Friday evenings stored up in consec-utive deprivation gathers a great pressure upon the odds in favour of burnishing the night's reputation. It may even be, that the natural balance of things will usher remark on Renoir toward us, as if the blush of health might bear his signature in the margin. If nothing else, he is great for the smile.  

Boudu sauvé des eaux
Les Film Sirius, 1932
Jean Renoir, direction
Jean Renoir, screenplay
  with Albert Valentin
René Fauchois, original play
Criterion Collection, 2005©


  1. "confined to surgery's penalty box for weeks on end"

    A Stanley Cup reference? I didn't know you were following the series. But my newly adopted "home team" did just lose the finals by a single point in overtime, thank you for asking. And I suppose that Ovechkin is just as germane to the topic of biceps as Prada, if he would just roll up those darn sleeves.

    Not surprising to see that even your slightest turn of phrase reeks of relevance. If your surgery has given you a new pulse, it certainly hasn't taken your finger off the pulse of current events.

  2. Of course one had in mind the Stanley Cup. Google reports that a substantial portion of the page's readership is now glued to broadcasts and tape replays of this distraction, and one can feel the pang of truancy from day to day. I think they'll be back, though. Ice is nice but legs are better.