Screening on Film
Directed by Jean Renoir.
With Charles Blavette, Celia Montalvan, Jenny Hélia.
France, 1935, 35mm, black & white, 82 min.
French, Italian & Spanish with English subtitles.
Print source: Institut Français

After a string of literary adaptations, Renoir executed a radical change of pace by turning to a true crime story set in the southern French countryside, which he shot on location using mostly nonprofessional actors. Toni follows the life of the titular Italian migrant worker whose love for a fellow migrant leads him to try and convince her to escape and start life anew somewhere else. The film was startling enough to raise Renoir’s profile with the French critics, with a truth that speaks to our own times: Toni pulls no punches in its depiction of the difficulties and contradictions inherent within immigrant life. Andre Bazin felt that Toni was “laying the foundation for what was to become neorealism ten years later.” The proof: a young Luchino Visconti, working on his very first film set, was Renoir’s assistant on the picture just eight years before he made Ossessione, considered the first Italian neorealist film. 

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