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Ben Nyce | Via Latina



By the time this issue of the Sandpiper arrives “Renoir” will be showing at Landmark La Jolla. By all accounts it is an excellent look at the painter’s work. The superb Michel Bouquet, now in his eighties, shows the artist crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, in his last years. We actually see his paintings being made, courtesy of the convicted art forger Guy Ribes, who mimics Renoir’s brushwork with uncanny fidelity. This makes the film highly unusual when you remember other films like Minelli’s “Lust For Life” in which Van Gogh’s paintings were presented in their visual settings but not as they were created. The film was shot at Renoir’s home (now a museum) and grounds at Les Collettes in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, a natural setting some few prefer to Monet’s more picturesque Giverny. The gnarled old olives bear a touching resemblance to Renoir’s twisted hands.

The time is 1915 and Renoir has lost his wife but his son Jean has returned wounded from the Great War to comfort his father. Jean doesn’t know what to do with himself except to pursue his father’s new model Andree Heuschling, whom he will later marry and cast in his earliest films. One of the interesting dimensions to the film, aside from its visual splendor, is to see an artist in his late prime and another, Jean, only beginning to find himself. Jean will, as we know, go on to make such masterpieces as “Rules of the Game” and “Grand Illusion,” surpassing his father in his chosen field. Pierre-August Renoir was not only a great painter. He was an enabler to his son. Most powerful and accomplished fathers cannot do what he did. A fine book is “Renoir, My Father” by Jean.

In this and future issues this column would like to notice the “little” films by John Huston, the somewhat neglected American director who received immediate attention with the classics “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Maltese Falcon” and was also the son of an accomplished father, the actor Walter Huston who played his greatest role as the old prospector in “Treasure.” John often made big budget films like “The Barbarian and the Geisha,” “The Bible” and “Annie.” Less noticed and less money-making were smaller films often based on good works of literature such as “Reflections in a Golden Eye” (Carson McCullers), “Wise Blood” (Flannery O’Connor), “Beat the Devil” (Truman Capote), “The Dead” (James Joyce) and “Fat City” (Leonard Gardner).


“Fat City” was shot in Stockton California among the crop pickers, bums, and derelicts who hang out in bars near the town’s boxing gym. It’s a study of two fighters, one on the way up (he thinks) Jeff Bridges, and the other on the way down, Stacy Keach. The world of the small-time club fighter is evoked in all its grittiness. Keach’s performance as a courageous has-been who succumbs to defeat and alcoholism is terrific, and Bridges as the young hopeful is good as well. There are no heroics or histrionics in “Fat City,” but it’s the best boxing film, second only to “Raging Bull.”

Nyce taught literature and film at USD. He is the author of “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorsese Up Close.” Call the Del Mar Library (858) 755-1666 to check on the availability of “Fat City” and “Renoir.”



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