When A Day in the Country was finally released in 1946, ten years after it was shot, it was hailed as an ‘unfinished masterpiece’. Since then, Jean Renoir’s masterly adaptation of a story by Guy de Maupassant, running at just under 40 minutes, has grown in reputation to become his best-loved film.
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If it's an unfinished film then I'm glad its unfinished. It being so painfully short is what I think makes it so painfully beautiful. The film explores and evokes the sense of those brief joyous moments that happen once in a blue moon that person spends the rest of their days revising, yet the film is never sappy or mawkish. Masterpiece I'd rank with Renoir's best.
I studied Renoir w/ Chris Faulkner (who extemporizes at length on the Criterion's special features), and he later advised my undergraduate and graduate theses. It was a very special piece of my life. Things got ugly shortly thereafter. I spent many years, wrecked, chasing women who reminded me of Sylvia Bataille. I nearly died a bunch. Seeing Partie for the first time in years, all this context in mind: kapow!
Almost everything that happens here is contained. Class behaviour, unhappy women, treacherous sexual desire. Nature shivers rhyming with the characters, and it looks as if it's been staged by Renoir. There're bursts of beauty: the swings, some compositions with the boats in the river, Henriette's extreme close-up after the kiss, and of course, the ending, with Georges D'arnoux's gesture meditating with a cigarette.
A nice piece of incidental fluff, that has the feeling of summer day, albeit a pretty forgetful one. Renoir uses his calming, observationally emotional style to show a picnic in the country, and the lax atmosphere of gentle relaxation and smiling downtime fun. It just doesn’t amount to much and is too light and airy to carry enough of anything to be too worth while.
A Day in the Country is an engaging, beautiful and moving short film from directed by Jean Renoir that exudes a compelling warmth and an incomparable sense of romance. The film does feel a little incomplete - the final transition is quite abrupt, but needed - but Renoir's natural talent to tell a story, his visual flair and his characters with a huge human dimension more than compensate the film's flaws.