Toni (1935)

Jean Renoir’s 1935 film has been claimed as a chief forerunner of the Italian neorealism of the following decade, because with hindsight that was exactly what it appeared to be, famously shot with natural light and live location sound entirely on the real locations where the events the film was based on took place with no studio work at all (and Luchino Visconti was assistant director on this production, furthering the connection). The DVD booklet cites Renoir’s observation on the difference between Toni and the later neorealists, namely that the latter were great dramatic productions whereas he tried to avoid the dramatic. And to a certain extent I suppose that’s true, in that the dramatic high points aren’t especially highlighted as they would be in a more conventional melodrama (the absence of a music score is no doubt a key factor in this), but surely you can’t call it “non-dramatic”, at least not with a straight face. I mean, there’s romantic intrigue, a suicide attempt, a murder, rock faces exploding symbolically… this isn’t a big dramatic production, at least in terms of the narrative? If it were set in a big city rather than the rural south of France it could’ve been noir we’re talking about rather than neorealism. I don’t know that this is one of Renoir’s best, but it’s interesting enough, and indeed it wasn’t until the film was over that I really considered just how well the film works with the number of frankly not altogether likeable characters; indeed, the nominal villain of the film, the cuntish quarry foreman, arguably isn’t actually the lowest form of life on display here, his wife’s cousin who locks horns with him and who instigates some dirty work that he abandons her to carry out can be viewed (and I think is viewed by the film) as a far shabbier human being. I was less bothered by that sort of thing here than I usually am.


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