Renoir took a two-year break from filmmaking as talking pictures came to France while the 1920s became the 1930s. His first sound film is this little-seen comedy, about a domestic tempest in a bedpan: as the household of a chamber pot salesman expects a visit from an important vendor, the infant of the family becomes constipated and refuses to take his laxative. Critics who considered this material unworthy of the great Renoir did not count on the director’s taste for toilet humor. In any case, the film exhibits a bit of the difficulty Renoir had in navigating the shift to sound. Gone is the location shooting, and the camerawork is (temporarily) less mobile and fluid; occasionally the actors deliver their lines directly into the camera. On the other hand, temporary confinement to shooting on a sound stage seems to have nudged Renoir toward his embrace of deep focus.
A film long considered unfinished turns out to be one of Renoir’s most profound and moving. In the midst of his commitment to the Popular Front, Renoir changed direction to undertake an adaptation of de Maupassant’s story “The Day in the Country,” about a picnic outing by some Parisian shopkeepers that results in idle flirtation for some and the fleeting discovery of true passion for others. An epilogue reveals, both serenely and tragically, the passing of time. When filming was interrupted by the weather, Renoir abandoned the project to begin work on The Lower Depths, not returning to it until several years later. The missing section of the screenplay goes unmissed, because what remains is some of Renoir’s most engaging and powerful filmmaking.
A Day in the Country: Screen Tests (Partie de campagne: essais d’acteurs)Directed by Jean Renoir.
1936/1994, 35mm, black & white, 14 min.
Print source: Les films du Jeudi
This film is a compilation of outtakes from screen tests for A Day in the Country.