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Originally published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 3:01 PM

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‘Renoir’: Handsome picture lacks dramatic strokes

A movie review of “Renoir,” a lightweight look at the great painter toward the end of his life.

San Francisco Chronicle

Movie Review 2 stars  

‘Renoir,’ with Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Rottiers. Directed by Gilles Bourdos, from a screenplay by Bourdos and Jérôme Tonnerre, based on a book by Jacques Renoir. 111 minutes. Rated R for sequences of art-related nudity and brief language. In French, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.

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Handsomely mounted but dramatically anemic, Gilles Bourdos’ “Renoir” offers some modest rewards, though its treatment of artistic endeavor, the lure of the flesh and generational issues finally feels lightweight.

The story takes place toward the end of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s life, when the great painter was in a wheelchair and his household helpers — seen here as a lively group of affectionate women — were required to tie his brush to his arthritic hand.

It’s the summer of 1915, and Renoir (Michel Bouquet), 74, continues to paint as he copes with the ravages of age. Two arrivals will shake up the household. The first is a beautiful young woman, Andrée (Christa Theret), a rebellious soul seeking work as a model. She poses for the old man, often nude, and he grows to like her.

Then, Renoir’s son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), a cavalry officer, returns home to nurse a leg injured on the battlefield. Jean, something of a stiff, begins to fall for Andrée, who has a bit of a conniving streak, and they begin a romance.

Eventually, we’ll see Andrée awaken Jean’s interest in film — yes, this is the same Jean Renoir who would go on to direct “The Rules of the Game” and other masterworks.

Before the affair, there’s a mild tug of war between father and son for Andrée’s attentions, and later an open and heated conflict between the men over Jean’s intention to return to the front.

The venerable Bouquet and Theret create some interest in their characters, and the portrayal of the artist’s household has touching and amusing moments. But overall the film has a sedative effect. While trying to avoid old-school dramatic fireworks, filmmaker Bourdos errs in the opposite direction. A movie about two supreme artists needs a little more sting.

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