- Cracking Gilles Deleue's Crystal: Narrative Space-Time in the Films of Jean Renoir by Barry Nevin
This book arises out of Barry Nevin's admiration for the portrayal of class in the films of Jean Renoir combined with his enthusiasm for the film philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Although Deleuze's discussion of Renoir in the two volumes of Cinéma is hardly extensive, the French director's films have a privileged status because they form a 'cracked crystal': nearly self-enclosed, but never pure and perfect, so that there are fissures through which time may escape and create the possibility of an open future. Nevin uses Deleuze to frame his discussion without following him on every point. He argues that Deleuze imposes a misleading unity on Renoir's work, overlooks key aspects of his technique, and fails to acknowledge changes in his ideological outlook. Nevertheless, a nuanced Deleuzian perspective underpins the conception of what Nevin, following Doreen Massey, calls space-time: the mutual implication of space and time in the construction of social relations. Through close, detailed analysis, Nevin shows Renoir's films to be ever-changing and inventive, sometimes inconsistent and self-challenging, and certainly resistant to being subsumed under a single image, even one as compelling and suggestive as the Deleuzian cracked crystal. Each of the four main chapters discusses aspects of Renoir's relation to space-time by focusing on three films, dealing in turn with Paris, rural landscapes, the Popular Front films, and the post-war films which foreground theatricality. Some of the landmark films of the 1930s are included, such as Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936), La Grande Illusion (1937), and, almost inevitably, La Règle du jeu (1939). A refreshing feature of the study, though, is its attention to less intensely studied films such as The Southerner (1945), Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), and the virtually forgotten silent work, Le Bled (1929). The prestige of Renoir's most celebrated films has tended to overshadow his other work. While by no means proposing a complete re-assessment of Renoir's œuvre, Nevin contributes to the endeavour to redress the balance to some degree, finding significant technical and conceptual interest in the less well known films. What emerges is a Renoir who is himself a 'cracked crystal', never tied to his own former achievements, always innovating and constantly evolving, open to the creative uncertainties of an unknown future. He changes from film to film, and even from shot to shot. Nevin's study is scholarly, insightful, and respectful. The adoption of the Deleuzian frame convincingly shows how philosophy and film studies can work together without one overpowering the other. For all the ink that has been spilled over Renoir, Nevin demonstrates that much remains to be said about the great director. This subtle and detailed book will be welcomed by all those interested in Renoir's films and in film philosophy more broadly.