The Southerner

Screening on Film
Recently Restored
Directed by Jean Renoir.
With Zachary Scott, Betty Field, Beulah Bondi.
US, 1945, 35mm, black & white, 92 min.
Print source: UCLA

Almost universally hailed as the zenith of Jean Renoir’s years in Hollywood, The Southerner is an impressionistic ode to the landscape of the American South, taking as its subject a poor family attempting, over the course of a year, to turn a scraggly crop of land into a bountiful farm. Driven less by conflict than by the changing seasons, the film’s narrative is nonetheless filled with strife, from the problems caused by the family’s territorial neighbors to those inevitably produced by the vagaries of the Texas climate. Successfully bringing poetic realism to the United States while also demonstrating his ability to use location shooting to powerful effect, Renoir frames everything from a loose, casual distance, creating democratic juxtapositions of man and nature so as to stress the dependence of the former on the latter. But even when misery endures, it is resilience that prevails—a reality etched beautifully across the faces of Zachary Scott, Betty Field and Beulah Bondi, the last of whom memorably stands her ground as dark clouds tower over her in the frame, an image of humanity refusing to be conquered by circumstance. 

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