Jean Renoir
Renoir in 1959
Born(1894-09-15)15 September 1894
Died12 February 1979(1979-02-12) (aged 84)
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, author
Years active1924–1978
Notable workLa Grande Illusion, La règle du jeu, The Southerner, The River, French Cancan
(m. 1920; div. 1943)
Dido Freire
(m. 1944)
PartnerMarguerite Renoir (1932–1939)

Jean Renoir (French: [ʁənwaʁ]; 15 September 1894 – 12 February 1979) was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer and author. As a film director and actor, he made more than forty films from the silent era to the end of the 1960s. His films La Grande Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) are often cited by critics as among the greatest films ever made.[1] He was ranked by the BFI's Sight & Sound poll of critics in 2002 as the fourth greatest director of all time. Among numerous honours accrued during his lifetime, he received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1975 for his contribution to the motion picture industry. Renoir was the son of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and the uncle of the cinematographer Claude Renoir. He was one of the first filmmakers to be known as an auteur.[2][3][4]

Early life

The young Renoir with Gabrielle Renard in a painting by his father Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1895–96)

Renoir was born in the Montmartre district of Paris, France. He was the second son of Aline (née Charigot) Renoir and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the renowned painter. His elder brother was Pierre Renoir, a French stage and film actor, and his younger brother Claude Renoir (1901–1969) had a brief career in the film industry, mostly assisting on a few of Jean's films.[citation needed] Jean Renoir was also the uncle of Claude Renoir (1913–1993), the son of Pierre, a cinematographer who worked with Jean Renoir on several of his films.

Renoir was largely raised by Gabrielle Renard, his nanny and his mother's cousin, with whom he developed a strong bond. Shortly before his birth, she had come to live with the Renoir family.[5] She introduced the young boy to the Guignol puppet shows in Montmartre, which influenced his later film career. He wrote in his 1974 memoirs My Life and My Films, "She taught me to see the face behind the mask and the fraud behind the flourishes. She taught me to detest the cliché."[6] Gabrielle was also fascinated by the new early motion pictures, and when Renoir was only a few years old she took him to see his first film.

As a child, Renoir moved to the south of France with his family. He and the rest of the Renoir family were the subjects of many of his father's paintings. His father's financial success ensured that the young Renoir was educated at fashionable boarding schools, from which, as he later wrote, he frequently ran away.[7]

At the outbreak of World War I, Renoir was serving in the French cavalry. Later, after receiving a bullet in his leg, he served as a reconnaissance pilot.[8] His leg injury left him with a permanent limp, but allowed him to develop his interest in the cinema, since he recuperated with his leg elevated while watching films, including the works of Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and others.[9][10] After the war, Renoir followed his father's suggestion and tried making ceramic art, but he soon set that aside to make films in the attempt, he would later claim, to make his wife, Hessling, a star.[11] He was particularly inspired by Erich von Stroheim's work.[12][13]


Early years

In 1924, Renoir directed Une Vie Sans Joie or Catherine, the first of his nine silent films, most of which starred his first wife, Catherine Hessling, who was also his father's last model.[14] At this stage, his films did not produce a return. Renoir gradually sold paintings inherited from his father to finance them.[15]

International success in the 1930s

During the 1930s Renoir enjoyed great success as a filmmaker. In 1931 he directed his first sound films, On purge bébé (Baby's Laxative) and La Chienne (The Bitch).[16] The following year he made Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux), a farcical sendup of the pretensions of a middle-class bookseller and his family, who meet with comic, and ultimately disastrous, results when they attempt to reform a vagrant played by Michel Simon.[17]

By the middle of the decade, Renoir was associated with the Popular Front. Several of his films, such as The Crime of Monsieur Lange (Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, 1935), Life Belongs to Us (1936) and La Marseillaise (1938), reflect the movement's politics.[18][19]

In 1937, he made La Grande Illusion, one of his better-known films, starring Erich von Stroheim and Jean Gabin. A film on the theme of brotherhood, relating a series of escape attempts by French POWs during World War I, it was enormously successful. It was banned in Germany, and later in Italy, after having won the Best Artistic Ensemble award at the Venice Film Festival.[20] It was the first foreign language film to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

He followed it with The Human Beast (La Bête Humaine) (1938), a film noir and tragedy based on the novel by Émile Zola and starring Simone Simon and Jean Gabin. This film also was a cinematic success.[21]

In 1939, able to co-finance his own films,[22] Renoir made The Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu), a satire on contemporary French society with an ensemble cast.[23] Renoir played the character Octave, who serves to connect characters from different social strata.[24] The film was his greatest commercial failure,[25] met with derision by Parisian audiences at its premiere. He extensively reedited the work, but without success at the time.[26]

A few weeks after the outbreak of World War II, the film was banned by the government. Renoir was a known pacifist and supporter of the French Communist Party, which made him suspect in the tense weeks before the war began.[27] The ban was lifted briefly in 1940, but after the fall of France that June, it was banned again.[28] Subsequently, the original negative of the film was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid.[28] It was not until the 1950s that French film enthusiasts Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand, with Renoir's cooperation, reconstructed a near-complete print of the film.[29][30] Since that time, The Rules of the Game has been reappraised and has frequently appeared near the top of critics' polls of the best films ever made.[31][32]

A week after the disastrous premiere of The Rules of the Game in July 1939, Renoir went to Rome with Karl Koch and Dido Freire, subsequently his second wife, to work on the script for a film version of Tosca.[33][34] At the age of 45, he became a lieutenant in the French Army Film Service. He was sent back to Italy, to teach film at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, and resume work on Tosca.[33][35][36] The French government hoped this cultural exchange would help maintain friendly relations with Italy, which had not yet entered the war.[33][35][37] He abandoned the project to return to France and make himself available for military service in August 1939.[38][39][40]


After Germany invaded France in May 1940, Renoir fled to the United States with Dido Freire.[41][42] In Hollywood, Renoir had difficulty finding projects that suited him.[43] His first American film, Swamp Water (1941), was a drama starring Dana Andrews and Walter Brennan. He co-produced and directed an anti-Nazi film set in France, This Land Is Mine (1943), starring Maureen O'Hara and Charles Laughton.[44][45] The Southerner (1945) is a film about Texas sharecroppers that is often regarded as his best American film. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Directing for this work.[46][47][48]

Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) is an adaptation of the Octave Mirbeau novel, Le Journal d'une femme de chambre, starring Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith.[49][50] His The Woman on the Beach (1947), starring Joan Bennett and Robert Ryan, was heavily reshot and reedited after it fared poorly among preview audiences in California.[51] Both films were poorly received; they were the last films Renoir made in America.[52][53][54] At this time, Renoir became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[55]


In 1949 Renoir traveled to India to shoot The River (1951), his first color film.[56] Based on the novel of the same name by Rumer Godden, the film is both a meditation on human beings' relationship with nature and a coming of age story of three young girls in colonial India.[57] The film won the International Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1951.[58]

After returning to work in Europe, Renoir made a trilogy of color musical comedies on the subjects of theater, politics and commerce: Le Carrosse d'or (The Golden Coach, 1953) with Anna Magnani; French Cancan (1954) with Jean Gabin and María Félix; and Eléna et les hommes (Elena and Her Men, 1956) with Ingrid Bergman and Jean Marais.[59] During the same period Renoir produced Clifford Odets' play The Big Knife in Paris. He also wrote his own play, Orvet, and produced it in Paris featuring Leslie Caron.[60][61]

Renoir made his next films with techniques adapted from live television.[62] Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Picnic on the Grass, 1959), starring Paul Meurisse and Catherine Rouvel, was filmed on the grounds of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's home in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and Le Testament du docteur Cordelier (The Testament of Doctor Cordelier, also 1959), starring Jean-Louis Barrault, was made in the streets of Paris and its suburbs.[63][64]

Renoir's penultimate film, Le Caporal épinglé (The Elusive Corporal, 1962), with Jean-Pierre Cassel and Claude Brasseur,[65] is set among French POWs during their internment in labor camps by the Nazis during World War II. The film explores the twin human needs for freedom, on the one hand, and emotional and economic security, on the other.[66][67]

Renoir's loving memoir of his father, Renoir, My Father (1962) describes the profound influence his father had on him and his work.[68] As funds for his film projects were becoming harder to obtain, Renoir continued to write screenplays for income. He published a novel, The Notebooks of Captain Georges, in 1966.[69][70] Captain Georges is the nostalgic account of a wealthy young man's sentimental education and love for a peasant girl, a theme also explored earlier in his films Diary of a Chambermaid and Picnic on the Grass.[71]

Last years

Renoir's last film is Le Petit théâtre de Jean Renoir (The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir), released in 1970.[72] The film is a series of three short films made in a variety of styles. It is, in many ways, one of his most challenging, avant-garde and unconventional works.[73][74]

Unable to obtain financing for his films and suffering declining health, Renoir spent his last years receiving friends at his home in Beverly Hills, and writing novels and his memoirs.[75]

In 1973 Renoir was preparing a production of his stage play, Carola, with Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer when he fell ill and was unable to direct. The producer Norman Lloyd, a friend and actor in The Southerner, took over the direction of the play. It was broadcast in the series program Hollywood Television Theater on WNET, Channel 13, New York on 3 February 1973.[76]

Renoir's memoir, My Life and My Films, was published in 1974. He wrote of the influence exercised by Gabrielle Renard, his nanny and his mother's cousin, with whom he developed a mutual lifelong bond. He concluded his memoirs with the words he had often spoken as a child, "Wait for me, Gabrielle."[77]

In 1975 Renoir received a lifetime Academy Award for his contribution to the motion picture industry. That same year a retrospective of his work was shown at the National Film Theatre in London.[78] Also in 1975, the government of France elevated him to the rank of commander in the Légion d'honneur.[79]

Personal life and death

Renoir was married to Catherine Hessling, an actress and model. After many years, they divorced. His second wife was Dido Freire.

Renoir's son Alain Renoir (1921–2008) became a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley and a scholar of medieval English literature.[80]

Jean Renoir died in Beverly Hills, California, on 12 February 1979 of a heart attack.[81] His body was returned to France and buried beside his family in the cemetery at Essoyes, France.[82]


On his death, fellow director and friend Orson Welles wrote "Jean Renoir: The Greatest of All Directors", an article for the Los Angeles Times.[83] Renoir's films have influenced many other directors, including Éric Rohmer,[84] Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet,[85] Peter Bogdanovich,[86] François Truffaut,[87] Robert Altman,[88] Errol Morris[89] Martin Scorsese[90] and Mike Leigh.[91] Four of his crew members, Satyajit Ray,[92] Luchino Visconti,[93] Robert Aldrich,[94] and Jacques Becker,[95][96][97][98] would go on to become highly acclaimed directors in their own right. He was an influence on the French New Wave, and his memoir is dedicated "to those film-makers who are known to the public as the 'New Wave' and whose preoccupations are mine."[99]

Jean Renoir has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6212 Hollywood Blvd.[100] Several of his ceramics were collected by Albert Barnes, who was a major patron and collector of Renoir's father. These can be found on display beneath Pierre-Auguste Renoir's paintings at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.[101]

According to David Thomson, Renoir was "the model of humanist cinema, an informal genre that included Frank Capra, Vittorio de Sica, Satyajit Ray, Yasujirō Ozu or even Charlie Chaplin."[102] In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, he writes: "Renoir asks us to see the variety and muddle of life without settling for one interpretation. He is the greatest of directors, he justifies cinema... In Renoir, My Father and in his own autobiography, My Life and My Films, Jean clearly adopts his father's wish to float on life like a cork. That same stream carries Boudu away to freedom, wrinkles with pain at the end of Partie de Campagne, overflows and engenders precarious existence in The Southerner, and is meaning itself in The River:

The river runs, the round world spins

Dawn and lamplight, midnight, noon.

Sun follows day, night stars and moon.

The day ends, the end begins."[103]




Year Original title English title Notes
1925 La fille de l'eau The Whirlpool of Fate
1926 Nana
1927 Sur un air de Charleston Charleston Parade
Marquitta presumed lost
Catherine ou Une vie sans joie Backbiters co-directed with Albert Dieudonné in 1924, re-edited and released in 1927
1928 "La petite marchande d'allumettes" "The Little Match Girl"
Tire-au-flanc The Sad Sack
Le tournoi dans la cité The Tournament
1929 Le Bled final silent film
1931 On purge bébé first sound film
La Chienne The Bitch
1932 La nuit de carrefour Night at the Crossroads
Boudu sauvé des eaux Boudu Saved from Drowning
1933 Chotard et cie Chotard and Company
1934 Madame Bovary
1935 Toni
1936 Le crime de Monsieur Lange The Crime of Monsieur Lange
Les Bas-fonds The Lower Depths
1937 La grande illusion Grand Illusion
1938 La Marsaillaise
La bête humaine
1939 La règle du jeu The Rules of the Game
1941 Swamp Water first American film
1943 This Land Is Mine
1945 The Southerner
"Salute to France" documentary
1946 The Diary of a Chambermaid
"Partie de campagne" "A Day in the Country" shot in 1936
1947 The Woman on the Beach
1951 The River final American film
1952 Le carrosse d'or The Golden Coach
1955 French Cancan
1956 Elena et les hommes Elena and Her Men
1959 Le Testament du docteur Cordelier The Doctor's Horrible Experiment
Le déjeuner sur l'herbe Picnic on the Grass
1962 Le caporal épinglé The Elusive Corporal
"La scampagnata" "The Picnic" Segment in Il fiore e la violenza (The Flower and the Violence)
1970 Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir

Other work


Renoir's writings

Writings featuring Renoir


  1. ^ Frierson, Michael (28 March 2018). Film and Video Editing Theory: How Editing Creates Meaning. Taylor & Francis. p. 315. ISBN 978-1-315-47499-1. OCLC 1030518417.
  2. ^ O'Shaughnessy, Martin; O'Shaughnessy, Professor of Film Studies Martin (20 October 2000). Jean Renoir. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 14. ISBN 9780719050633. OCLC 606344172.
  3. ^ Braudy, Leo (15 July 1994). "The Auteur Who Coined the Word : Commentary: A Jean Renoir expert says UCLA's retrospective attempts to answer age-old questions about art". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  4. ^ François, Truffaut (1954). "A Certain Tendency of French Cinema (Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français)". Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  5. ^ My Life and My Films, p. 16
  6. ^ My Life and My Films, pp. 29, 282
  7. ^ Renoir, Jean. Renoir My Father, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962, pp. 417–419; 425–429
  8. ^ Durgnat, Raymond. Jean Renoir, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974, pp. 27–28
  9. ^ Renoir, Jean. My Life and My Films, New York: Atheneum, 1974, pp. 40–43
  10. ^ Renoir My Father, pp. 417–19.
  11. ^ Pérez, G: The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium, p.193. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8018-6523-9
  12. ^ My Life and My Films, pp. 47–48.
  13. ^ Renoir, Jean. "Memories", Le Point XVIII, December 1938. Reprinted in Bazin, Andre. Jean Renoir, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973, pp. 151–152
  14. ^ Durgnat, p. 29. The name of the film was Une Vie Sans Joie or Catherine.
  15. ^ My Life and My Films, pp. 81–85
  16. ^ Durgnat, pp. 64, 68
  17. ^ Durgnat, pp. 85–87
  18. ^ My Life and My Films, pp. 124–127
  19. ^ Durgnat, pp. 108–131
  20. ^ Bazin, Andre. Jean Renoir, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973, pp. 56–66
  21. ^ Durgnat, pp. 172–184
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  23. ^ Gilliatt, Penelope. Jean Renoir: Essays, Conversations, Reviews, New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1975, p. 59
  24. ^ Renoir, Jean. An Interview: Jean Renoir, Copenhagen: Green Integer Books, 1998, p. 67
  25. ^ Volk, Carol. Renoir on Renoir: Interviews, Essays and Remarks, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 236
  26. ^ Durgnat, pp. 189–190
  27. ^ Bergan, Ronald (1997). Jean Renoir, Projections of Paradise. The Overlook Press. p. 205.
  28. ^ a b Durgnant, 191
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  30. ^ Gilliatt, p. 60
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  33. ^ a b c Durgnat, p. 213.
  34. ^ David Thompson and Lorraine LoBianco (ed.) Jean Renoir: Letters, London: Faber & Faber, 1994, p. 61
  35. ^ a b My Life and My Films, pp. 175–176
  36. ^ Jean Renoir: Letters, pp. 62–65.
  37. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, p. 65
  38. ^ Durgnat, p. 213
  39. ^ My Life and My Films, p. 177
  40. ^ Jean Renoir: Letters, pp. 61, 64
  41. ^ Durgnat, p. 222.
  42. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, p. 87
  43. ^ Volk, pp. 10–30
  44. ^ Durgnat, pp. 234–236.
  45. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, p. 183
  46. ^ Durgnat, p. 244
  47. ^ Bazin, p. 103
  48. ^ a b "Jean Renoir". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 4 January 2023. 1974 (47th) HONORARY AWARD To Jean Renoir – a genius who, with grace, responsibility and enviable devotion through silent film, sound film, feature, documentary and television, has won the world's admiration.
  49. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, pp. 165–169.
  50. ^ Durgnat, p. 252.
  51. ^ Durgnat, p. 261.
  52. ^ Durgnat, p. 259.
  53. ^ Volk, p. 24.
  54. ^ My Life and My Films, p. 247
  55. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, pp. 207, 270
  56. ^ Durgnat, pp. 273–274
  57. ^ Durgnat, pp. 273, 275–276
  58. ^ Durgnat, p. 284
  59. ^ Durgnat, p. 400
  60. ^ Faulkner, pp. 33–34
  61. ^ My Life and My Films, pp. 274–275
  62. ^ Renoir, Jean. Ecrits 1926–1971, Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1974, pp. 286–289
  63. ^ My Life and My Films, p. 277
  64. ^ Ecrits 1926–1971, pp. 292–294
  65. ^ Bazin, p. 300-301
  66. ^ Durgnat, pp. 357–367.
  67. ^ Bazin, pp. 301–4
  68. ^ Durgnat, pp. 368–372
  69. ^ Durgnat, p. 373
  70. ^ Faulkner, pp. 37–38
  71. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, p. 455, 463
  72. ^ Bazin, p. 306
  73. ^ My Life and My Films, pp. 277–278.
  74. ^ Rohmer, Eric. "Notes sur Le Petit théâtre de Jean Renoir", in Cinema 79 No. 244, April 1979, pp. 20–24
  75. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, pp. 509–553
  76. ^ a b Faulkner, p. 40
  77. ^ My Life and My Films, p. 282
  78. ^ Faulkner, pp. 40–41
  79. ^ a b An Interview: Jean Renoir, p. 18
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  82. ^ Thompson and LoBianco, p. 555
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  99. ^ Renoir, Jean (1974). My Life and My Films. p. 9.
  100. ^ "Jean Renoir – Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  101. ^ My Life and My Films, page 230.
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  105. ^ Faulkner, page 34.
  106. ^ Faulkner, page 36.
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