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Is “Renoir” the Greatest Movie About Painting Ever?
Few things are as painful to watch in movies as an activity you know and love being portrayed poorly. From the awkward baseball swings of athletically challenged actors to the magical creativity of thespian painters and sculptors, the typical bio-pic rankles with under-researched insensitivity to the hard work and dedication of the subject depicted. French director Gilles Bourdos’ film, Renoir (released in 2012 but only now showing in select theaters in the United States), breaks out of the bio-pic mold and forges a fascinating new way of showing an artist, in this case Pierre-Auguste Renoir, toiling at his trade in a realistic way that also conveys the aesthetic, spiritual dimension of the art. Lush, delicate, charming, and soulful, Renoir might be the greatest movie about painting ever.
Renoir begins in 1915 with a young girl riding a bike onto Renoir’s estate Collettes in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. Greeted by Renoir’s youngest son, Coco, the young woman, Andrée Heuschling, enters the Renoirs’ world just after Aline, the matriarch of the family, has passed away. “Deedee,” hired to model for Renoir by his late wife, poses for Renoir and soon revitalizes his art, leading to a late renaissance of nudes and landscapes of amazing virtuosity and life. When Renoir’s son Jean returns from the war to recover from near-mortal wounds, he, too, finds inspiration and rejuvenation through Deedee. The two young people become lovers and talk about their dreams for the future: hers to be a movie actress and his to emerge from his father’s shadow, perhaps as a director in the still-new medium of film. But will Jean’s sense of duty to return to the front and fight for his country jeopardize not only his life, but also his relationship with Deedee and his father’s renewal through this young muse?
Michel Bouquet plays Renoir beautifully. (Compare Bouquet’s performance with real-life footage of Renoir at work in Sacha Guitry’s short documentary, Ceux de Chez Nous [about 2 minutes].) Brusque one minute, tender the next, Bouquet’s Renoir refuses easy categorization, just like the real artist. The director, Bourdos, juxtaposes scenes of sun and greenery where Renoir paints joyfully with interiors and nightscapes when the artist’s crippling arthritis compel him to cry out at night and to have helpers, including Deedee, bathe the gnarled joints of his hands and knees.
Vincent Rottiers as Jean Renoir handsomely captures the dashing young soldier caught between two worlds—his father’s past world of painting and the new, uncertain realm of the silent film. Rottiers’ expressive face and subtle gestures allow him to bring great maturity to the life of young Jean, who represents that whole generation of European youth torn between the slaughterhouse of World War I and breaking free of all nationalism and tradition.
It is Christa Theret as Deedee, however, that steals the film. “Her skin soaks up the sun,” Renoir gushes early on over his young model. Theret soaks up this whole film, both with her skin in the nude scenes and in her radical exuberance in the midst of the tomblike, yet Edenic world of the Renoirs in 1915. The director actually asked the 21-year-old French actress (shown above, between Renoir père et fils) to gain weight for the role and make herself more Renoir-esque, if not Rubenesque. Yes, there are a great deal of nude scenes involving Theret in Renoir, but they never feel exploitative. “Flesh!” Renoir roars at Jean late in the film. “That’s all that matters… in life or painting.” Theret’s flesh embodies the spirit within her character, who longs to break out of the old ways and cut a new path for herself as a modern, sexually liberated woman. Theret’s Deedee refuses to fall into the standard muse model. As in real life, the relationship between Renoir and his last star model was reciprocal. She gave him a glimpse into the new world rising around him, full of new ideas and a new kind of woman. He gave her a glimpse into the world of true artistry, where hard work and commitment mean as much as vision and charisma.
It’s these scenes where Bourdos directs Renoir at work that set Renoir apart from previous films showing artists painting. Forget Kirk Douglas’ tortured, pious Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life or John Malkovich’s oversexed, overpsychoanalyzed Gustav Klimt in Klimt. Bourdos began with two previous directors in mind: Maurice Pialat, “who absolutely refused to portray a painter in the act,” Bourdos explains, and Vincente Minnelli, “who straightforwardly directs the actual situations portrayed in paintings.” Avoiding those two extremes, Bourdos instead aims for a realism without straightforward documentation—painting without explicit reference to any one, specific painting. Renoir, thus, features an “ongoing discrepancy between the paintings that Auguste paints before the camera and his model,” Bourdos explains, “as if to underscore the artist’s part in reinterpreting what he sees.”
Bourdos actually employed a real-life art forger (Guy Ribes, literally fresh out of prison for art crimes, including faking Renoirs) to play Renoir’s “hand” painting as Bouquet provided Renoir’s voice. Ribes specialized not in copying existing works but rather in painting in the style of an acknowledged master—a level of interpretation in painting that Bourdos wanted for his depiction of Renoir. Ribes thus channels the spirit of Renoir as Theret channels the spirit of the model as challenging, inspiring muse to truly recreate what it would have been like to be there in the studio or out in the sunlight with Renoir in his sunset years. Add in Alexandre Desplat’s delicate, note-perfect soundtrack and Mark Lee Ping Bin’s heart-touching, soulful cinematography, and the sum effect are scenes that may be the closest ever to true artistic creation caught on film.
In one key scene, Jean prepares Renoir’s palette and asks his father if he wants black. “Renoirs refuse to paint the world black,” Renoir responds. “There are enough disagreeable things in life. I don’t need to create more.” Surrounded by death both large-scale and intimately close, Renoir refused to paint life black. Instead, through Deedee’s example, Renoir seized life ferociously until his death in 1919. I remember viewing the Late Renoir exhibit a few years ago (my review here) and coming away with an entirely new opinion not just of Renoir, but also of the role of art itself as a fountain of youth. Andrée Heuschling, who would go on to marry Jean and star in his earliest films as “Catherine Hessling,” served as a living fountain of youth for the three generations of Renoir men. See Renoir and drink from that same fountain of youth that is the real-life magic of human flesh, human interaction, and human spirit coming together in art.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.