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Double Bill: Renoir, Beginnings and Endings

MUBI Special

“Nature is millions of things. And there are millions of ways of understanding its preoccupations.” —Jean Renoir

One of cinema’s most illustrious filmmakers, Jean Renoir traversed many genres—including satire, film noir, and the musical—yet his work possesses an unmistakably humanist touch. The two films in this double bill, made near the beginning and end of his career, exemplify how the great French auteur stayed true to his cinematic virtues: namely, a poetic realism that emphasized authenticity by portraying people with all their imperfections. In 1926, Renoir directed the ambitious and grandiose Nana, which incorporates flourishes inspired by German Expressionism alongside magnificent set pieces, while retaining a great emotional, naturalistic nuance. In 1962, Renoir returned to similar material as his 1937 masterpiece The Grand Illusion with the sentimental and often amusing The Elusive Corporal, which finds compassion and humility in war-induced depravity. These two films show how Renoir’s singular oeuvre transformed over the course of almost 40 years even as it kept an irreplicable egalitarianism at its core.

Nana

Jean Renoir France, 1926

Jean Renoir’s second film is a splendid adaptation of Zola’s novel, starring his then-partner, Catherine Hessling, in the eccentric titular role. Influenced by Von Stroheim and German Expressionism, Nana is an ambitious and detailed silent drama, blending a somber mood with frequent visual comedy.

The Elusive Corporal

Jean Renoir France, 1962

The penultimate feature from Renoir, which he considered to be his saddest film, is a darkly humorous WW2 tale, co-written by Guy Lefrance, who brought his experiences in a German POW camp to the page. A quasi-sequel to Grand Illusion, Jean-Pierre Cassel stars in this beautiful and humanist story.

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