A Day in the Country
This bittersweet film from Jean Renoir, based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, is a tenderly comic idyll about a city family’s picnic in the French countryside and the romancing of the mother and grown daughter by two local men. Conceived as a short feature, the project had nearly finished production in 1936 when Renoir was called away for The Lower Depths. Shooting was abandoned then, but the film was completed with the existing footage by Renoir’s team and released in its current form in 1946, after the director had already moved on to Hollywood. The result is a warmly humanist vignette that ranks among Renoir’s most lyrical works, with a love for nature imbuing its every beautiful frame.
Jean Renoir’s short film A Day in the Country is presented on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The new high-definition presentation is delivered in 1080p/24hz.
The film’s in terrific shape, with very few blemishes remaining, limited mostly to some faint tram lines and a bit of debris here and there. For a film with such an interesting history (it was abandoned, unfinished by Renoir and sat around for years until its producer figured out a way to finish it after the war had ended) it looks far better than I would have thought.
The transfer itself also looks exceptional, though with a few minor issues. It’s a bright film but contrast looks nicely balanced, and gray levels are distinctly rendered with nice whites and rich blacks surrounding them. Detail looks very good, with great textures, particularly on close-ups, and depth looks superb. Long shots are also strong but not nearly as impressive as close-ups. Film grain remains and for the most part if looks good, but some pixilation is apparent in places.
Still, overall, it looks great, in far better shape than an 80-year old film probably should.
There’s some background noise and a slight edge to everything, but the lossless 1.0 PCM mono track sounds good. Dialogue can be a little tinny but it does sound clear and distortion isn’t too big of a concern. Ultimately it’s limited by its age but it has still been restored rather nicely.
Despite the film only running about 41-minutes Criterion loads on a number of supplements starting with an introduction by Jean Renoir, recorded for a French television airing of the film. For 6-minutes Renoir talks about the origins of the film (saying he imagined it as a sort of omnibus film before they really existed) before going on some tangent about plagiarism and how more artists should do it (yes, that’s what he is saying, though he has his reasons). Only half of it has to do with the film but it’s a good find from the archives, with Renoir giving his vision of what the film was supposed to be.
The Road to A Day in the Country features Christopher Faulkner talking about the production history behind A Day in the Country, how it came to be (the producer was infatuated with Sylvia Baitille and wanted to make a film with her) and how Renoir came to be involved. From here he then goes into the production problems that arose delaying then ultimately cancelling the project, with the film’s star and Renoir pretty much just walking away. He then talks about how the film’s producer, Pierre Braunberger “finished” the film he apparently sunk a lot of money into, and also explains some of the things that weren’t filmed but were scripted. It’s a terrific overview of the production and eventual release, nicely filling out the 25-minute running time.
Adding on more details about the production is an interview with the film’s producer, Pierre Braunberger filmed in 1979. This shy of 6-minute clip features Braunberger going over his reasons for making the film (he admits it was because he was smitten with Baitille) and bringing Renoir on board (it sounds as though the reason Renoir did it was simply because he was available) and humourously mentions when he figured out how to finish the film—he says it was when he was fleeing France after the Nazi occupation that it came to him to simply use title cards to bookend the film. Another nice find from the archives.
Renoir at Work is a 16-minute video essay by Faulkner using footage from Un tournage à la campagne, the 84-minute film also included here in its entirety, made up of unused footage edited together to follow the same chronology of the film. It was constructed in 1994, decades after well over 4-hours’ worth of footage was discovered, and it offers alternate takes, a couple of deleted scenes, outtakes, different framings (which Faulkner showcases in his essay, showing how Renoir would test the framing of a scene), and general behind-the-scenes footage. With this material Faulkner in his essay tries to show how precise and commanding a filmmaker Renoir was, trying to show he wasn’t as improvisational as some feel he was. He uses footage showcasing Renoir either giving very specific directions or even reaching in frame to position an actor’s arm. It’s a nicely put together video essay well worth viewing. Accompanying all of this is then 9-minutes’ worth of screen tests, which Faulkner touches on in his features. Great inclusions all-around.
Gilberto Perez then provides an essay in the included standard insert, covering the film, its production, and its story, which conveys so much in so little time.
Altogether I found all of the material on here rather invaluable, adding some real weight to this edition, making it less painful that one would be paying a hefty premium price for 41-minute. Criterion has put together a nice special edition here.
Some may be put off by the price of the disc for a 41-minute film, which is the premium $39.95, but I was rather pleased with this edition. Criterion has put together a lovely release, sporting a rather nice high-definition presentation and a nice wealth of supplements. I’d say it’s well worth it.