13 January 2003 | bensonj
A Fascinating Document
For a rerelease, perhaps in the late thirties, Guitry sat at a desk in front of a camera and read his supporting commentary for this film, which he had shot as a young man during WW I. He explains that he was disturbed by Germany's claim to have a monopoly on "culture." He decided to film the leading paradigms of French culture, although he knew nothing about making films. His commentary is excellent; he's drily amusing, respectful, and squarely behind the concept of genius. Of these fascinating glimpses of great men (and a woman), the most breathtaking by far is of Renoir, nonchalantly painting quick strokes with his arthritic hands, smoking and chatting. His young son Jean is attentive in the background, ready to put paints on the palate, etc. Of all the great men shown, Renoir seemed the most down-to-earth and natural, enjoying himself and ignoring the camera. His crippled, twisted fingers seemed not to bother him at all. The informal image of this master literally made me breathless, and left tears in my eyes. How fortunate that Guitry was farsighted enough to make this record. Other highlights are Monet painting his water lilies in his incredible water garden, and a brief shot of Degas walking down the street, filmed without his knowledge, since he refused to participate in the making of the film. It's not only fascinating to see Degas, but to see the Parisian street of the time.