La fille de l’eau (1925)

Jean Renoir’s debut feature. This was technically a first viewing for me, cos hitherto I’d only seen the dream sequence from the film. For some reason I was under the impression that bit was all that remained of the film, so it came as a bit of a surprise to learn it was nothing of the sort, the whole film survived (apparently 1927’s Marquitta is his only actual lost film) and now leads off The Jean Renoir Collection, an interesting box of odds and sods I’ll be reviewing over the next few days… Seeing the dream sequence in its proper context was interesting, cos now I know it’s totally unrepresentative of the film as a whole, being an essentially gratuitous bit of “hey look what I can do” in the midst of an otherwise reasonably naturalistic rural melodrama. That said, it’s also probably the best thing in the film too… Renoir basically went into films because his wife Catherine Hessling (who he’d discovered as a potential model for his somewhat more famous father Pierre-Auguste) decided she wanted to be a film star, and he was happy to encourage her… so he spun her this fairly simple story of a sorely beset young woman brought up on a barge left bereft in the French countryside after his rather random death; other family and friends served in the cast and also provided some filming locations. In the BBC doco on Criterion’s Rules of the Game, Alexander Sesonske characterises this as being like a kind of home movie, which isn’t entirely unfair though maybe a bit harsh; certainly it can be described as apprentice work, with Renoir perhaps not entirely sure of himself yet and not really helped by the fact that La Hessling probably wasn’t as good an actress as she seems to have thought she was. It’s OK, competent enough, but mainly it demonstrates that even great artists have to start somewhere…

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