“I tried to tell the story of one of the greatest moments of history just as I would an event that was happening down the street…in the spirit of intimacy.”- Renoir In its neorealist approach to the French Revolution, La Marseillaise is one of the most endearing films on the subject. Renoir’s masses are not the beleaguered Parisians of lore but the peasantry of Southern France who, as revolutionary volunteers, brought their services to Paris. Nor is this one of cinema’s endless caricatures of Louis XVI, but rather Pierre Renoir’s thoughtful and often ironic portrayal of a king folding into his shell as his world crashes around him. Though he employs the proverbial “cast of thousands,” Renoir consistently cuts away from spectacle to the human experience: the long march from Marseilles to Paris is eclipsed by a gentle soldier trying to extricate himself from Mama’s kitchen and join the troops, a speech by Robespierre ignored in favor of a shadow-puppet show. In fact, the film is at its most revolutionary when it is at its most relaxed: fireside banter reveals the mood that brought a revolution into being, culinary discussions have hidden philosophical ingredients. Made for the Popular Front and financed by public subscription, La Marseillaise is very much a film of its time, replete with jokes about aristos on the Champs Elysées, arguments for women’s rights-and a dream of winning over “Prussian” soldiers to the French cause. —BAM/PFA
The son of the painter Auguste Renoir, Jean Renoir became one of France’s most important and respected filmmakers during the middle of the 20th century. A Philosophy and Math student, Renoir became a cavalryman, but was invalided out of the army before World War I. Later, he married a model and aspiring actress, and, following the death of his father and the acquisition of an inheritance, set up his own production company to produce movies for his wife. Renoir learned from these early experiences of financing movies and watching other films, and became a director in 1924. With the advent of sound, Renoir’s career was quickly made with a series of profitable films, including La Chienne (1931), a savage and dark drama about a man’s self-destruction, which was later remade by Fritz Lang as Scarlet Street. Renoir’s subsequent films, including The Lower Depths (1936) and Grand Illusion (1937), were among the finest made in France before the war, and were well acknowledged at the time of… read more
First off, I must admit I know almost nothing about the French Revolution and I don't count on films to teach me in the stead of personally asserted research. So my comments won't be about the historical content, but Renoir seems to know how to capture great human emotions and circumstances in virtually any story or setting and with such elegant and precise detail and execution...and this picture is no exception.