Made on the cusp of WWII, Jean Renoir’s satire of the upper-middle classes was banned as demoralising by the French government for two decades after its release. Renoir, a director associated with the left wing Popular Front, turned his gaze away from working people to the haute bourgeoisie. Taking its cue from the classic stage farces of Musset and Beaumarchais, Renoir sets his action during a shooting weekend at a country house. It’s an upstairs-downstairs world where servants and masters become enmeshed in a tangle of desire, a jumble of motivations in which, in the film’s famous phrase, “Everyone has their reasons”. At the film’s centre is the amiable Octave (played by Renoir), whose best intentions lead to tragedy.
Shot in long, controlled takes that stress the depth of vision, Renoir’s depiction of an intransigent society teetering blithely into disaster was derided upon release and only later acclaimed as one of cinema’s most vital films.
“A lesson in life in every word of dialogue, a piece of cinema in every frame. The joy of seeing a movie was never as great as here.” João Antunes
“A merry-go-round of love and sorrow. A masterful comedy of manners replete with unexpected twists and turns.” Jan Olsson
“A stunning panorama of metropolitan and provincial, aristocrat and peasant, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and a tale of two marriages that seems to sum up life in Europe just before World War II.” Carrie Rickey
“In this film we can find everything: the decadence of European culture before the war, the creative freedom of a film director both modern and primitive, the infinite potential of filming in deep-focus and long shots to grab and replicate the complexity, the openness, the elusiveness of reality.” Roberto Manassero
“Probably the best example of the Renoir style, combining graceful mise en scène, seamless plotting and the peerless command of cinematic technique.” Charles Ramírez Berg
“No more devastatingly ironic and subtle critique of wealth, power and privilege has ever been made. A great film by a committed activist filmmaker.” Ian Aitken
“Luminous, masterful filmmaking with a piercing melancholy.” Anupama Chopra
“Characters and events move between the foreground, middle ground and background through deep focus and long shots. A masterpiece that uses cinema as a playground.” Raymond Phatanavirangoon
“To be scathing and humanist and gentle at the same time, and tell your tale effortlessly – that’s Renoir’s genius. One of the world’s great filmmakers, and this is his greatest achievement.” Eddie Muller
“Deceptively light-handed charm throughout the upstairs, downstairs antics in a country house doesn’t obscure Jean Renoir’s contempt for the underlying darkness and his prescience of what was to imminently befall such people. Still delightful, perfectly on target and still imitated in film and television by people who possibly don’t even know they are doing it.” Angie Errigo
“Hands down the greatest film featuring a gorilla suit.” Michael Atkinson