Classic Movie Review: Partie de campagne (1936)

Title: Partie de campagne
Release Date: 8 May 1946
Director: Jean Renoir
Production Company: Panthéon Productions

After watching several lengthy, epic films in the past few weeks, I was delighted that this movie is only a brisk 40 minutes. Part of the reason for its brevity is that the film was never finished. Director Jean Renoir abandoned filming in 1936 after some weather-related problems and the film was edited together by other parties a decade later, after Renoir had left for the United States.

The story is quite simple. Henriette Dufour (Sylvia Bataille) is a young woman from Paris who goes on a tour of the countryside with her mother (Jane Marken), her father the shopkeeper (André Gabriello), and the shopkeeper’s assistant/Henriette’s fiancé, Anatole (Paul Temps).  When they stop for a picnic, two predatory young men – Henri (Georges D’Arnoux) and Rodolphe (Jacques B. Brunius) – divvy up the Henriette and her mother with plans for “hanky panky.”

While Anatole and M. Dufour go fishing, Henri and Rodolphe take Henriette and her mother out in rowboats. Henri stops at an island and makes the moves on Henriette. In the 1930s expectations, Henriette demurs Henri’s advances out of societal roles for women until she final accepts his kisses. In 2021 terms, it is clearly a sexual assault.  Either way, I don’t really feel a great romance between the two or any reason for the conclusion, set years ago, where they meet again and have a melancholy reflection on their one moment together.

The movie is incomplete and it feels incomplete because it doesn’t seem to fill in the details behind the characters’ emotions. Nevertheless it does work as a vignette, capturing fleeting feelings and moments in time. Stylistically it also impressive, especially with the camera work on scenes such as the one where Henriette rides a swing. I’m not convinced that this is one of the greatest movies of all-time but it’s not a huge investment of time if you want to judge for yourself.

Rating: ***