The French auteur’s retrospective will showcase five films

A present-day Malayali viewing French auteur Jean Renoir’s classic The Rules of the Game is sure to let out gasps of familiarity at some of its legendary sequences.

The 1939 film tells the story of a group of people from the French upper class on a hunting retreat with their servants in tow. The confusing mix of the romantic entanglements within the group that leads up to comical and farcical scenes of arguments and fights is sure to remind us of the Malayalam cinema of the 1980s vintage.

Though the comparison might sound far-fetched and even blasphemous to some, parallels can indeed be drawn from the Renoir film to Priyadarshan’s films of that decade, which almost always ended with such mix-ups. Another clinching factor is that these films made fun of not just the upper class. The lower class was also shown as susceptible to deviations.

But where all others stopped at just satire, Renoir goes on to rip apart his subject with a searing critique. In his other classic The Grand Illusion set during the First World War, he gives a lesson in pacifism to modern-day war filmmakers who have a tendency to slip to jingoism or to hero worship. In this film, a German Captain is shown sharing jokes and drinks with French prisoners of war and it also ends with a powerful scene on the meaninglessness of national boundaries.

These two films have come to define Renoir over the years and are repeatedly shown worldwide. But in this year’s International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) to be held in the capital city from December 6 to 13, which has a retrospective of Renoir’s films, the focus is on the comparatively smaller films in his oeuvre.

First in the list of five films is the delightful Boudu Saved from Drowning which tells the story of a tramp who is saved from drowning by an upper class man and given shelter at his home. The way Boudu’s anarchic behaviour wreaks havoc in his saviour’s family forms the plot. The film is, in a way, a follow-up to his earlier work La Chienne .

Second in the list is Toni , hailed as one of the inspirations for the neorealist films of the late 1940s, and one of the first films to be free from ‘sets.’ Also to be screened is La Bete Humaine ( The Human Beast ), a story of crime and passion set on a train. This film, based on Emile Zola’s book, is one of the several literary adaptations that that he has done. Among the notable ones are the ones based on Flaubert’s Madam Bovary and Zola’s Nana .

Another of his literary adaptations to be screened is Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier ( The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment ), Renoir’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But even R.L. Stevenson will have some trouble recognising his story on screen, for Renoir has reinterpreted it in his own way, even changing the setting to Paris in the 1950s. Rounding up the list of films to be screened is French Cancan , a boisterous music and dance extravaganza from his later years.

Maybe because he is the son of the French impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, he is known to be careful of his frames. He was one of the pioneers of the deep focus through The Rules of the Game where at any given time one can catch several different strands of the storyline progressing behind the main action.

The sheer variety of the subjects he dealt with is mindboggling. But the Renoir stamp is etched boldly on all of them. A peek at Renoir’s career that straddles the silent era through the neorealist period to the age of the technicolor is in itself a lesson in film history.