Like “Young Mr. Lincoln” and Mike Leigh’s Gilbert and Sullivan saga “Topsy-Turvy,” the new “Renoir” forgoes the Great Man biopic template to focus exclusively on a tiny slither of its subject’s life. In this case, it’s the final years of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), portrayed as an alternately cranky and warm septuagenarian breaking in Andree (Christa Theret), a new and frequently nude model.
“Renoir” starts as a more approachable version of Jacques Rivette’s four-hour “La Belle Noiseusse,” a breezy, patient look at the relationship between artist and muse. Matters gradually turn more conventional. Renoir’s twentysomething son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) swings by from WWI, to hit on Andree and just barely show the seeds of the pioneering filmmaker he would soon become. Its portrait of the great director as a young man, strident where he would one day be charming, is questionable and reductive, portraying him as cruelly lording over Andree (who would become his first wife). Still that’s not enough to break the leisurely countryside spell, even if said spell is not nearly as enchanting as the one Renoir the Younger did in his 1936 film “A Day in the Country.”