FRENCH AUTEUR Jean Renoir once said that every artist must be 20 years ahead of his time—something difficult for a filmmaker, "because the cinema insists on being 20 years behind the public." Indeed, his was a legend that only grew in his later years, and even more after his death in 1979. While 1937's Grand Illusion was an international success, 1939's The Rules of the Game, now considered one of the greatest films of all time, was a monumental flop. Years of alternating triumph and struggle were to follow.
Renoir's shaky reputation didn't stop him from influencing future filmmakers, and after you see Grand Illusion (which screens this week at Cinema 21; see Film, this issue), take some time to see some of the pictures that followed in Renoir's wake.
Citizen Kane (1941)—Orson Welles might have went too far in copying his hero: His masterpiece was reviled on release, too. The visual sweep of Kane, and the narrative balance between the grandiose and the human, is perfectly Renoir.
Scarlet Street (1945)—Fritz Lang was no slouch in the directorial chair, but he turned to an early Renoir picture, La Chienne (1931), for one of his Hollywood noirs. Both films detail a meek man's misguided dabbling in the seedier side of lovemaking, though Lang's is broader in its strokes.
Stalag 17 (1953)—Billy Wilder's concentration camp comedy features Otto Preminger as a prison guard remarkably similar to Erich von Stroheim's character in Grand Illusion. Interestingly, both Preminger and von Stroheim were excellent filmmakers in their own right.
Manhattan (1979)—Woody Allen always cited Renoir as an influence, but he paid him no greater tribute than using Grand Illusion as a punchline illustrating his own deluded romanticism.
Gosford Park (2001)—Though most people cite the influence of the BBC series Upstairs, Downstairs on Robert Altman's Oscar winner, its true blueprint is The Rules of the Game. Both use the personal intrigue of a weekend getaway as an "in" to satirize the social classes—right down to an all-too-revealing hunting expedition.