I think that a great painter is even rarer than a great film director,” Jean Renoir said. It was 1967, and the French filmmaker was sitting on the bank of the river Ource, chatting during the making of a documentary by Jacques Rivette, a New Wave director who idolised Renoir’s Grand Illusion, The Crime of Monsieur Lange and the masterpiece The Rules of the Game.
But unlike the New Wave’s auteurs, Renoir (1894-1979) had his doubts about cinema’s importance. Because of the medium’s limits, he told Rivette, a film could never fully express a single vision. Only a painter could “find the relationship between eternity and the instant, between the world and the soul.” Filmmakers were cursed to be technicians. Painters, Renoir concluded, “are the great philosophers of our time.”
He was exaggerating, but he knew what he was talking about, for he was the son of a painter: Pierre-Auguste Renoir,