In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jean Renoir

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Interviews
  • Screenplays
  • Longer Writings
  • General Monographs
  • Edited Collections
  • General Articles
  • Silent and Early Sound Films
  • Popular Front Films
  • Partie de campagne/Day in the Country (1946)
  • La Grande Illusion/Grand Illusion (1937)
  • La Marseillaise (1938)
  • La Bête humaine/The Human Beast (1938)
  • La Règle du jeu/The Rules of the Game (1939)
  • The American Films
  • Late Films

Cinema and Media Studies Jean Renoir
Chris Faulkner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0261


Few filmmakers are more world renowned than Jean Renoir (b. 1894–d. 1979), who directed thirty-seven films in five countries and on three continents between 1924 and 1979. There are more than one hundred books and many hundreds of articles in numerous languages about Renoir’s life and career. His career can be divided into four stages: a silent period from 1924 to 1929, when he made nine films (one of which is lost), including Nana 1926; his most prolific years in France between 1931 and 1939 when he made fifteen films, among which are his most celebrated, La Chienne (1931), Toni (1936), Le Crime de M. Lange (1936), Partie de campagne/Day in the Country (1946) (1936, released 1946), La Grande Illusion/Grand Illusion (1937), La Bête humaine/The Human Beast (1938), and La Règle du jeu/The Rules of the Game (1939); an American period from 1941 to 1948 comprising five features and a short informational film, during which his best known work was The Southerner (1945); and, an international period from 1951 to 1969 of eight films made in India, Italy, Austria, and France, which saw the production of The River (1951), The Golden Coach (1953), and French Cancan (1955). The critical literature on Renoir’s life and career is vast. There are three biographies, scores of Interviews in various languages, and dozens of critical studies, including single-authored works and Edited Collections of essays, with more than twenty books to date on La Règle du jeu alone. In addition to the Screenplays for his films, most of which he wrote or co-wrote, Renoir was a prolific writer, with more than two hundred articles to his credit; an autobiography; a biography of his father, the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (b. 1841–d. 1919); four novels, and two plays. There are also two collections of his letters. Renoir was championed by Cahiers du cinéma from January 1952, and, under the influence of André Bazin, its young critics—among whom were François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette—became staunch defenders and promoters of his films and career. Bazin and the Cahiers critics considered Renoir an exemplary auteur. However, they neglected the social dimension of Renoir’s work and skirted entirely his left-wing political activism during the 1930s. Major archival resources for students of Renoir are to be found at the Cinémathèque française in Paris and at the Special Collections Library at the University of California, Los Angeles. High-quality DVDs, many with informed commentaries and essays, exist for the major films.

Reference Works

English-language readers will have to await the translation of the definitive 1,100-page biography of Renoir, Mérigeau 2012. In the meantime, they must make do with Bertin 1991 and Bergan 1994, both of which are prone to error and neither of which is as reliable as Mérigeau 2012, which is scholarly, exhaustive, and dispassionate in its approach to both the man and the works. Both Bertin 1991 and Bergan 1994 tend to be hagiographies and neither relies much on primary and archival sources. Furthermore, in both of these works, the authors’ admiration for the man clouds the books’ judgment of the films. For those interested in the extensive, and extended, Renoir family, some of its connections are explored in Pharisien 1998. The latter unearths much original material having to do with the families of Aline Renoir, Pierre-Auguste’s wife, and Gabrielle Renard, Jean’s famous nurse and his father’s frequent model. In treating Renoir’s correspondence after his emigration to the United States in 1941 as a literary achievement in its own right, De Vita 2015 offers an approach to biography through the letters which acknowledges that the author is not recovering the “real” Renoir but the persona of Renoir the writer-director. Much of Renoir’s voluminous correspondence is covered in his Lettres d’Amérique and Jean Renoir: Letters (Renoir 1994). There are two published bibliographies of Renoir’s work, an annotated bibliography in English (Faulkner 1979) and Viry-Babel 1989 in French. The latter work is indebted to the former, but includes some additional works. These volumes are still useful, but much has been published since they appeared and a new assessment of the existing literature is now overdue. A useful online bibliography, Masters 2016, is not annotated but does endeavor to stay up to date with publications in English, including reviews and other fugitive pieces, which have appeared since 1979.

  • Bergan, Ronald. Jean Renoir: Projections of Paradise. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 1994.

    This biography relies heavily on Renoir’s own My Life and My Films for the years before World War II and has the benefit of Interviews with friends and family for the postwar period. It is descriptive, rather than analytical, with Renoir never having made a bad or indifferent film. Prone to errors of fact, its sources are indifferently acknowledged.

  • Bertin, Célia. Jean Renoir: A Life in Pictures. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1991.

    This is a very readable if uncritical biography that relies heavily on Renoir’s own written work and other published sources. The reliability of much that is reported is, therefore, questionable. The treatment of the films is descriptive rather than analytical. For Renoir’s later years, Bertin did have the advantage of direct conversations with many of Renoir’s friends and family, and it is here that the biography is most informative.

  • Faulkner, Christopher. Jean Renoir: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.

    The first annotated bibliography and filmography devoted to Renoir, which surveys publications by and about him and his films in English, French, Italian, and German from 1924 to 1976 and is still useful for many out-of-the-way writings, including contemporary reviews of many films, interviews, and hundreds of articles. The filmography, however, while thorough, contains numerous errors and should now be considered out of date.

  • Masters, Steve. Jean Renoir Online: A Craftsman’s Cinema. 2016.

    The bibliography on this useful site includes publications having to do with Renoir and his films under the headings of books, General Articles and chapters in books, and articles on individual films. The titles posted are those which have appeared after 1979 in English only or in English translation. Every effort is made to keep the bibliography up to date and links are provided to some online articles.

  • Mérigeau, Pascal. Jean Renoir. Paris: Flammarion, 2012.

    At more than 1,000 pages, based on research conducted in France, the United States, Italy, and Germany, this is the definitive biography of Renoir for many years to come. No hagiography this—both the life and the films are treated critically. It proceeds chronologically and, once Renoir’s film career is underway, film by film. Sources are extensively footnoted and there is a full bibliography.

  • Pharisien, Bernard. Célébrités d’Essoyes. Paris: Némont, 1998.

    This is a fascinating study of the famous families of the village of Essoyes, in Champagne, which is the birthplace of Aline Charigot, Renoir’s mother, and Gabrielle Renard, his nurse; where Renoir spent childhood summers; and where Renoir père and fils are buried. The author, who is related to Gabrielle, details the family histories connected with the Renoirs by marriage and gently corrects Jean Renoir on some family matters.

  • Renoir, Jean. Lettres d’Amérique. Edited by Dido Renoir et Alexander Sesonske. Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 1984.

    Although some of these letters, written from America between January 1941, immediately after his arrival in the United States, and October 1949 are duplicated in translation in Renoir 1994, most are not. They are written to family, friends, and business associates in the United States, France, and elsewhere in the world and are an important source of information for new projects and the difficulties of adjustment to a new life.

  • Renoir, Jean. Jean Renoir: Letters. Edited by David Thompson and Lorraine LoBianco. London: Faber and Faber, 1994.

    The publication of Renoir’s correspondence in this substantial volume is first of all selective (not everything is here) and second almost entirely covers the years after 1940 (earlier letters were not preserved). Nevertheless, this volume is indispensable for knowledge of Renoir’s activities in the postwar years, as he corresponded with dozens of friends and collaborators, including Dudley Nichols, Clifford Odets, Ingrid Bergman, his son Alain, and his wife Dido.

  • Viry-Babel, Roger. Jean Renoir: films/textes/références. Nancy, France: Presses universitaires de Nancy, 1989.

    This complete filmography and annotated bibliography in French supplements Faulkner 1979 and adds useful sections on Renoir’s numerous television and radio appearances (all but one of which is after 1950). The annotations are often modestly descriptive and seldom analytical, except with respect to most of the book-length studies of Renoir’s work, where Viry-Babel is more fulsome with his remarks.

  • Vita, Philippe de. Jean Renoir epistolier: fragments autobiographique d’un honnête homme. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2015.

    In drawing on more than three thousand letters Renoir wrote to more than five hundred correspondents after 1941, this book treats Renoir’s correspondence both as documentary evidence for his approach to filmmaking, an approach which clearly undermines the auteur theory, and as a literary achievement in itself, in which Renoir constructs a persona in exile from Europe, a sociable persona which can adapt itself to its interlocutor.

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