Proving that sometimes a little goes a long way, Jean Renoir’s short but sweet film Partie de campagne (1936) is one for the ages. Blending comedy and drama effortlessly, Renoir tells the story of a Parisian’s family’s day in the country. Exploring a wide range of ideas, Renoir puts a lifetime of living and loving into the span of a single day, and just 40 minutes of screen time. The most fascinating, and perhaps universal is the idea of love, and it’s different forms. Through the two male courters and Henriette and her mother we begin to understand the fundamentals of the human relationship. Her mother is loud, coy and flirtatious. She tries to bait her husband to get “lost” in the woods, but to no avail. She welcomes the advances of the young man, an escape perhaps from a stale relationship and the mundane existence of being middle class. While her daughter is a quiet, innocent, and well mannered young woman. Henriette truly encompasses the innocence and naivity of youth, she rejects her courters advances. Her story is the only “serious” one of the film. It’s clear from the beginning that there is a deep spiritual and romantic connection between her and Henri. Their scenes together are some of the most tragically romantic I’ve ever seen, and so much of it has to do with the awkwardness of it all. I’ve never seen a film capture young “love” so well, and tinged with such tragicness… because really does it ever really last?
The film is beautifully shot, and Renoir uses the weather and the river motif to great effect. The river has many meanings, like a road can be used as a symbol for life, and the journey we have to take. In literature it’s often used to represent moving in and out of sorrow. Furthermore, throughout the film the weather gets worse and worse. A storm is looming, adding added conflict, and really a sense of how those “happy” moments are so short, and will come to an all too quick conclusion. When the rain finally does come, Renoir uses this brilliant tracking type shot as the camera speeds backwards along the river. It’s one of those euphoric moments, that is pure poetry. It’s almost as if all that was said and done that day didn’t happen, or didn’t mean anything… on one level, this is true. It doesn’t change the lives of the characters, although they all live with the memories of that summer afternoon.
Balanced with all this seriousness, is some great slapstick and rather classical style humour. It plays out like A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the reference feels appropriate as one of the characters pretends to play a pan flute while hopping about). The film is filled with subtle and just outlandish moments that will leave you reeling. It plays beautifully into the drama, especially in the last not-so-funny scene.
What a great way to start this thing up. I’m honestly surprised how much I loved it, and it’s so short I feel like I can just go watch it again. Do yourself a favour and see this film, I doubt you’ll regret it.