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A charismatic thief makes friends with a bankrupt baron who comes to live in the thief's slum. Meanwhile the thief seeks the love of a young woman, who is held emotionally captive by her slumlord family.
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Just how unfinished "Partie De Campagne" truly is remains something of a contentious issue. There are countless differing theories and opinions, some of which seem to have been instigated by the director himself. There are those, this reviewer included, who believe Renoir originally intended this film as one-half of a double feature of Guy De Maupassant adaptations. Whatever might have once been planned, however, does nothing to soften the radiant beauty and brilliance of the film.
Renoir had collected around himself a group of friends and family in the hope of creating what he later described as a "holiday" atmosphere during the scheduled week of filming. In accordance with the story on which it is based, long summer days and balmy afternoons by the river banks were called for in Renoir's script. Unfortunately, the cast and crew were faced with a damp, dismal July which continued long into August. Cramped up in the lobby of the hotel, sheltering from the storms outside, personal tensions and rivalries soon inevitably surfaced. With the months continuing to pass and little to show the financial backers in the rushes, money became scarce. Eventually, after refusing Sylvia Bataille's request for leave so she might audition for a future project in Paris, the director himself nonchalantly announced he would be abandoning the film to concentrate his efforts on his next film, Les Bas-fonds.
Considering all of the above, it is miraculous that the film we see today is such a luminous, sensual masterpiece.
Much is made of Renoir's use of deep focus techniques in films such as Le Regle de Jeu and La Grande Illusion, quite rightly so, but it is also used to great effect in this film. The film's early scenes largely take place inside a rural inn. Renoir keeps the camera mostly in one place, stationary. Then, suddenly, a window is opened; light floods in, we see trees, a breeze blowing lightly through grass, a young woman and her mother arcing high into the summer air on swings. Now we cut to a close-up of the girl, with the camera fixed to the swing, an accomplice to her every movement. She is laughing, ecstatic, exhilarated by her surroundings. It is an exhilarating moment in cinema, the sudden infusion of life and nature into the film echoes in the viewer's mind throughout the short running time.
Renoir is a great film-maker, perhaps the greatest of all, and this is a great film, perhaps his greatest of all.
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