Une partie de campagne

Jean Renoir, France, 1936, Solaris Distribution


A fade and a title card take us to a time, several years after Henri and Henriette’s brief romantic interlude. She’s now married, as had been promised, to Anatole, the ridiculous clerk. The camera is on the island, as if waiting throughout the years for their return. We see Henri approaching in his little boat, returning to the same tree as the first time with Henriette. He sees a boat, showing that other people are around, then walks along the same path by the river as last time, which creates an emotional response and a feeling of suspense in the mind of the viewer, married with the music and the wind that shakes the vegetation.

Henri then sees something out of shot which doesn’t seem to surprise him, almost like a sign from the forces of destiny.

He stops in front of the swing shaped branch, the symbolic door of the space. The camera then shows us Henriette from behind, while Anatole takes a nap beside her. She turns, as if alerted to another presence. The camera follows her towards Henri, and they stand separated in shot and reverse, one on either side of the branch, as if admitting that the memory of that wonderful Sunday never left them.

Their exchange is brief, their eyes say it all. The bitter irony is that she’s come here to this exact place with her husband to better remember the brief moment in time she shared with Henri. As the music swells dramatically, Henriette cries and then the reverie is broken by the snoring of her husband. The couple then leave in the distance, while Henri looks on at them whilst smoking. This reinforces the cruel separation between desire and the world of the societal merry-go-round. Such is the difference in their social standing theirs is a love that could only exist in ephemeral and secret way, here, in this place, apart from the rest of the world. At the end of the sequence the camera tilts down to look at the water, offering us a metaphor for the passing of time and the rhythms of the natural world.