“Nature is millions of things. And there are millions of ways of understanding its preoccupations.” —Jean Renoir
One of cinema’s most illustrious filmmakers, Jean Renoir traversed many genres—including satire, film noir, and the musical—yet his work possesses an unmistakably humanist touch. The two films in this double bill, made near the beginning and end of his career, exemplify how the great French auteur stayed true to his cinematic virtues: namely, a poetic realism that emphasized authenticity by portraying people with all their imperfections. In 1926, Renoir directed the ambitious and grandiose Nana, which incorporates flourishes inspired by German Expressionism alongside magnificent set pieces, while retaining a great emotional, naturalistic nuance. In 1962, Renoir returned to similar material as his 1937 masterpiece The Grand Illusion with the sentimental and often amusing The Elusive Corporal, which finds compassion and humility in war-induced depravity. These two films show how Renoir’s singular oeuvre transformed over the course of almost 40 years even as it kept an irreplicable egalitarianism at its core.