”Partie de Campagne” is something quite unusual on the List. It is an unfinished film elevated to stardom by the ranks of critics. As far as I know this is the only such film on the list. To attain such an acclaimed status an unfinished film must be something truly special.
I have seen it twice now and read a few reviews on it and frankly I am not entirely sure about this film. Yes, I see there is a bittersweet taste to it which is quite delicate but is it enough for critics to go totally into self-escalation over this film? I just do not know. So far I am still undecided.
My problem I guess is that the film seem a bit schizophrenic to me. On the one hand we have a group of people straight out of a cartoon. They are basically caricatures. The Parisian ironmonger of course in his big brutish ways and even more his idiotic son in law Anatole, who belongs in an asylum, but also the four core characters Madame Dufour (Jane Marken), the mother, Henriette (Sylvia Bataille), the daughter, Henri (Georges D'Arnoux), boatman no. 1 and Rodolphe (Jacques B. Brunius), boatman no. 2 are false in flavor to me. I find it hard to really sympathize with them and they seem more like symbolic characters than actual people.
On the other hand the story of a break from reality where Henri and Henriette can discover love in a little bubble of their own world is quite exquisite, especially when the spell is broken and reality with its harsh and boring face returns. It is neat and it is poignant, but is it enough?
It is obvious that Henri and Henriette are the ones we are supposed to sympathize with and if I put on my friendly glasses they are deeper and more sympathetic than the rest. Henri at first is not interested in hitting on the guests and appears to be the more responsible and less of a jackass than Rodolphe. He seems play along merely out of boredom as the alternative is just to languish in the sun. He even tries to talk Rodolphe out of the scheme. However when contact is made he quickly zooms in on Henriette and edges Rodolphe out. I do not know if it is because of genuine interest in her of just to protect her from Rodolphe. In any case he quickly turns from being second pilot to actively court the Parisian belle.
Henriette is portrayed as innocence incarnate. Her playing on the swing is a reference to childlike innocence for sure and her reactions in general in the first half do not point toward a deeper character. Only when in the boat with Henri do we see a sadness and a longing to escape a life apparently cut out for her. She wants to embrace this dream but is afraid to. This leads up to the “oh-no-oh-no-take-your-hands-off-me-but-yes-yes-I-changed-my-mind” scene on the bank of the river. I know this is the highlight, where she is giving in to the dream, but yes, I am laughing.
That is as much as we know about them and it is probably enough, but I still feel a bit cheated. I would like to know some more and maybe I would if Renoir had finished his film. As it is we just get a glimpse of them.
Meanwhile Madame Dufour and Rodolphe embrace their little break with abandon, Rodolphe with his ridiculous moustache and unhidden intentions and Madame who openly plays along now that her husband does not care for such adventures anymore. In a sense they are far more frank about this than Henri and Henriette. This is not about love and life, but simple unabashed fun. We even see Rodolphe give it as satyr, complete with a ballet-like gait and a double whistle. It is obvious that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas and when this is over both can return to their lives without worrying about what happened.
Not so with Henri and Henriette. They are marked for life and unless they get each other (which they do not, sorry) they will live unhappily ever after. Just to top it off, in Henriette’s case with the idiot Anatole.
This all sounds very sweet and I guess it is but it also leads me back to the beginning. Had I only cared for any of these people. They seem stupid and generally unlikeable and try as I may I just cannot mobilize enough interest for Henri and Henriette and actually end up rooting more for the scoundrel Rodolphe and silly Madame Dufour as they are at least honest with themselves.
I think I see why people tend to like this film and I really really tried this time, but this will probably never be my favorite Renoir film. I will take “La Regle du Jeu” and “La Grande Illusion” any day.