Monday, June 8, 2015

Partie de campagne [A Day in the Country ]

[Inside: Rodolphe (Jacques Brunius) and Henri (Georges D’Arnoux). Outside: Henriette (Sylvia Bataille) and her mother Mme. Dufour (Jane Marken). Click for a larger view.]

Adapted from a short story by Guy de Maupassant, Jean Renoir’s 1936 film Partie de campagne [A Day in the Country ] is about the male gaze, certainly: as Henriette and Mme. Dufour swing, they are watched in turn by M. Dufour (André Gabriello), Dufour’s shop assistant and future son-in-law Anatole (Paul Temps), four grinning schoolboys, a pack of nervous seminarians and their priestly keepers, Rodolphe (a young boatman on the make), and his more somber friend Henri. But the film is about so much more. The Dufours, their daughter Henriette, Mme. Dufour’s mother (Gabrielle Fontan), and Anatole have left Paris for a day in the country, fishing and picnicking. They are urban rubes: “There’s so much dirt in the country!” says Mme. Dufour. Yet they are charmed by the magic of the natural world: sunlight, a cherry tree, a nightingale, a river. Rodolphe and Henri plot to get the two younger women to themselves. What follows cannot be predicted. Yet when one watches the film a second time, the course of the action seems inevitable.

“We cannot go to the country / for the country will bring us / no peace,” William Carlos Williams wrote in “Raleigh Was Right.” So too in Renoir’s film, but for a different reason: here, going to the country stirs feelings that can find expression nowhere else. It ruins a person for the rest of life.

Partie de campagne is available from The Criterion Collection, whose designers have created, as always, a beautiful and inventive package. The restaurant’s signboard inspires the disc menu:

So beautiful. Credit goes (I think) to art director Sarah Habibi and type designer F. Ron Miller.

[A bonus: a musical score by Joseph Kosma, who wrote the music for “Les feuilles mortes” [“Autumn Leaves”]. A special added bonus: Renoir plays the proprietor of the Restaurant Poulain. His longtime partner Marguerite Houlle Renoir plays the waitress.]

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