Partie de campagne

(Jean Renoir, France, 1936)


One of the most powerful and unsettling devices in film fiction is the ‘years later’ epilogue – which usually takes us, with wistful sadness, from the concentrated time of a story in which everything was briefly possible, to the singular destiny that ensued for the characters.

At the end of Jean Renoir’s magnificent Partie de campagne, Henriette (Sylvia Bataille) is seen unhappily married to the man to whom she was betrothed at the start, the gormless clerk Anatole (Paul Temps). But, in between this alpha and omega, nothing is so fixed or certain. 

Adapted from a story by Guy de Maupassant, the film was unfinished in the form originally envisaged by Renoir. However, it stands as a self-sufficient, perfect gem, inexhaustible to the cinema-loving eye.

Its central action is devoted to the pairing-off of two local adventurers, Rodolphe (the critic-artist Jacques Brunius, credited as Borel) and Henri (Georges Darnoux), with Henriette and her mother, Juliette (Jeanne Marken).

Renoir constructs a brilliant diagram of contrasts and comparisons between the two pairs as they split up for an illicit sexual dalliance away from the family’s eye: Rodolphe and Juliette are lusty, frivolous, living only for the moment; while Henri and Henriette are overwhelmed by emotion and the thought of an impossible future.

Thus, what started as (in Henriette’s words) "a sort of vague desire" that seems to call forth both the beauty and harshness of nature (the post-coital storm), ends badly: "Years pass, with Sundays as melancholy as Mondays", as a poetic inter-title informs us.

MORE Renoir: The Diary of a Chambermaid, The Woman on the Beach

© Adrian Martin April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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