#103. A Day in the Country (1936)

A Day in the Country was apparently never completed because the outdoor shoot kept getting rained out, day after day, and eventually director Jean Renoir was called away to start shooting The Grand Illusion. Renoir insists, though, that what we now consider an incomplete movie, at forty minutes long, was always intended to be about forty minutes anyway, and so its piecemeal assembly, he says, isn’t a departure from what he originally wanted it to look like. And people seem to love it, so what’s the harm?

I just don’t get the allure of this movie. Nor, frankly, did I understand the allure of Renoir’s other appearance on the List, in Boudu Saved from Drowning.

A Day in the Country is well-acted, it’s amusing, but, as I mentioned in the essay for the former, I think it’s very much a movie that belongs to its people and time. And I think that this one, especially, ought to have been omitted from the List.

A Day in the Country is an adaptation of a short story by Guy de Maupassant and, after reading three essays by film historians and critics trying to explain its allure, I’ve deduced that Renoir’s purpose here was to film a sort of love letter to the outdoors — which does kind of highlight, by contrast, how indoorsy and dapper and well-mannered his other movies are. His characters do step out for brief intimacies with the outdoors, like with Boudu’s dip in the canal [editor’s note from the future: Renoir also shows some love for the outdoors int he final scenes of The Grand Illusion, and the (very) long hunting scene in Rules of the Game], but most of the drama takes place within the characters’ intimate chambers. Day in the Country is alos apparently a commentary about the typical Parisian socialite who revels in the idea of the countryside, of roughing it or of finding communion with nature, and how those visitors are percieved, judged, handled by the people who live in the country. If that’s what Renoir was really going for then there’s definitely a cultural divide that I couldn’t reconcile when I first watched it. But I’m also definitely not gonna watch it again.

Also: I do get an evasive sorta vibe here of refinement within the movie, of artistry, where you feel like you’re in the hands of a director with a serious vision, but I’m skeptical of that feeling because I’m having such trouble getting it into words, and so I’m wondering if maybe it’s just the power of suggestion. Like maybe I’m just telling myself that the movie is special, and that I’m feeling its specialness, because I don’t wanna look stupid.

And yet I can think of just a handful of filmmakers who are held in such resoundingly high regard by critics, audiences, and colleagues as Jean Renoir is, and with all of those applause under his belt I’m reluctant to be the one guy saying I’m not a fan. There’s definitely a huge talent on display here, it’s just taxing to find myself incapable of totally appreciating it.

Another issue: if I know that A Day in the Country is widely considered a great movie, but I personally don’t enjoy it, can I still, as a critic, recommend it? It also gets me wondering about how that power of suggestion will shape my viewing of other major movies on the List. Gone with the Wind in particular — if I end up hating Gone with the Wind, will I allow myself to feel that way, or will I turn to the writings of more seasoned and celebrated critics, people who know how to appreciate it, and thus read my feelings into submission.

renoir sitting.jpg
Director Jean Renoir

I’m still learning a lot about movies and, being fairly young to boot, I’m often swayed into believing that I’m wrong to dislike something, aesthetically, if it turns out that a more educated/experienced person has praised it. Vehemently as I hated Sergei Eisenstein’s October, for instance, I still feel pangs of embarrassment to be voicing those feelings. Because I want to be honest, but I also wanna be smart, and maybe by dismissing this widely-revered movie as boring, as ill-conceived, I’m showing myself to be the wrongest kinda person to be doing this Project.

But, alas, I am doing this Project, and this is what I think.

Go ahead and watch this one if you fancy yourself a student of the form, or you’ve got a really strong eye for filmmaking. This picture’s no lark, though. If you’re looking for a good time, it went someplace else.


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