Renoir (R) (111 min.) — A chapter from the early life of Jean Renoir, one of cinema's greatest talents, is the subject of Gilles Bourdos' sensual movie practically by default. The story is intended to be that of his father, impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir during his last creative period, when rheumatoid arthritis wracked his hands yet a beautiful muse urged him on.
Set in 1915 in France's Cote d'Azur region, Bourdos and cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee craft each scene to be suitable for framing, with vibrant natural lighting, perfectly modulated shadows and a lush countryside tinted yellow by the sun. The drama at hand is practically as inert as a painting, with Pierre-Auguste — played by the venerable Michel Bouquet, 87 — alternating between fascination with painting the female form and the excruciating pain he endures to do it.
His latest and most inspiring subject is Andree Heuschling (Christa Theret), whose flame red hair and milky skin rejuvenates the old man's creative spirit. She inspires different feelings in 21-year-old Jean (Vincent Rottiers), back home recuperating from a wound suffered in World War I. Andree becomes Jean's lover and — as end notes reveal — his wife and lead actor in his early silent films. One woman, two artistic giants stirred by her beauty.
Renoir is beautifully filmed and scored (by 5-time Oscar nominee Alexandre Desplat), yet with the emotional pull of watching exquisitely textured oil paint dry. Yet it is heartily recommended to art students researching term papers, gallery patrons seeking fresh conversation points or anyone wishing to check out Tampa Theatre's new digital audio and projection system. Shown with English subtitles. B-
Steve Persall, Times movie critic