Une Partie de Campagne
UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE
(A Day in the Country)
Director: Jean Renoir
Production: Pantheon-Production; black and white, 35mm; running time: 45 minutes; length: 1100 meters, originally 1232 meters. Released 8 May 1946, Paris. Filmed July-August 1936 near Montigny and Marlotte.
Producer: Pierre Braunberger; executive producer: Jacques B. Brunius, with Roger Woog; screenplay: Jean Renoir, from the story by Guy Maupassant; photography: Claude Renior; editor: Marguerite Houle-Renoir, final version: Marienette Cadix under Marguerite Houle-Renoir's supervision, assisted by Marcel Cravenne; sound: Courme de Bretagne and Joseph de Bretagne; production designer: Robert Gys; music: Joseph Kosma and Germaine Montero; assistant to the director: Jacques Becker and Henri Cartier-Bresson, other contributors to this film include: Claude Heymann, Luchino Visconti, and Yves Allegret.
Cast: Sylvia Bataille (Henriette); Georges Darnoux (Henri); Jeanne Marken (Madame Dufour); Jacques Borel (Rodolphe); Paul Temps (Anatole); Gabrielle Fontan (Grandmother); Jean Renoir (Father Poulain); Marguerite Renoir (The servant); Gabriello (M. Cyprien Dufour); Pierre Lestringuez (Old priest).
Renoir, Jean, Une Partie de campagne, in Image et Son (Paris), April-May 1962; excerpts in Jean Renoir: An Investigation into HisFilms and Philosophy, by Pierre Leprohon, New York, 1971.
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André Bazin, in his unfinished study of Jean Renoir, described Une partie de campagne as a "perfectly finished work," one that is not only faithful in letter and spirit to the Maupassant story from which it was adapted but also actually improved by Renoir's additions and refinements to the original tale. This is high praise, indeed, when one realizes that the film's completion was highly problematic. Many of Renoir's films have had checkered careers, but none was quite so confusing as Une partie de campagne. Renoir originally intended to shoot a 35- or 40-minute story which he would make, he wrote later, just as if it were a full-length film. Renoir chose a gentle, 19th-century tale and planned to spend a relaxed summer filming along the banks of the Loin near Marlotte, an area he knew extremely well. The entire experience should have provided him, as Alexander Sesonske has described it, with a "brief and pleasant respite in mid-career." Despite the rainiest summer in memory, an extremely volatile political climate, tensions on the set and the fact that the film sat for nearly 10 years waiting for its final editing, Une partie de campagne is a remarkably fine film, some say a masterpiece; Sesonske thinks that no Renoir film seems "more unstudied, more a pure flow of life caught unaware."
There are sound reasons for the film's critical success: it is a film of uncommon gentleness and beauty, and it forms less of a "respite" in Renoir's career than a concentration of his most important themes and images: the river, the countryside, the loving scrutiny of bourgeois life. Une partie de campagne forms a poetic centre for Renoir's French films. Rather than a sense of diversion, the film reflects a completeness. Renoir's rendering of his subject matter is incisive, his style mature, his vision complete; it is a seamless work of art. Many critics have called attention to the film's impressionistic quality, suggesting that it is a homage to the director's father, the painter Pierre Auguste Renoir. Indeed, impressionistic moments do grace the film—but for one to try to understand it as an attempt by the son to do what the father had already done with paint and canvas is to sadly underestimate the qualities of the movie. The "painterly" look of the films of Renoir fils have done much to strengthen his popular image as a director of surfaces, much to the detriment of his standing as a filmmaker of depth and perception.
The shortness of the film also has strengthened the perception of Renoir as an impressionistic filmmaker, and many critics today still respond to the film as incomplete, an interesting but unfinished experiment. The fact that Renoir left two scenes from the Maupassant story unshot has been used as evidence for regarding the film as a fragment, and considering Renoir's relative fidelity to the events of Maupassant's tale, it is an understandable, if mistaken, conclusion. Published versions of the screenplay for those "missing" scenes have further confused the issue. However, closer examination of the relationship between the story and the film will dispel such misconceptions. Renoir wrote in his autobiography, My Life and My Films, that when he was asked to increase the original footage to feature length, he refused because he felt that it would have been contrary to the intent of Maupassant's story and to his screenplay to lengthen it. Moreover, what many critics have failed to notice is that Renoir, although he adapted the events of the fiction faithfully, greatly altered the story's tone, which allowed him to drop the final scenes from the completed film without leaving the project incomplete.
Maupassant's tantalizingly brief tale is largely satiric in tone. He makes fun of the pretensions and foibles of his bourgeoisie often rather harshly; the natural setting is kept in the background; and the atmosphere of the country is diminished. Renoir not only places greater emphasis in the rural atmosphere and setting but also makes a film that by bringing such natural elements into the foreground turns Maupassant's rather strident attack on the Dufort family into a compassionate and understanding film about unrecoverable moments and the inevitable sadness of the loss of innocence and love. As André Bazin has noted, such changes do improve the original. The story is given a resonance, the characters motivation, and the ending a poignance lacking in the fictional source. As Pierre Leprohon has described it: "there is an overflowing tenderness, and extraordinary responsiveness to the existence of things, and a transformation of the commonplace into the sublime." In Une partie de campagne, Renoir has created a poetic compression of those things that he holds dear, which is one of the reasons the film evokes such fond memories and responses from its viewers. Although unhappy and somewhat ironic, the ending is nevertheless not unhopeful. Life and the river will both flow on and be renewed.
—Charles L. P. Silet