Photography - and thus filmmaking - is painting with light. The connection is illuminated in the lovely "Renoir," a twilight-years biography of the great French Impressionist.
In 1915, Europe is at war, and the 74-year-old artist is racked with rheumatoid arthritis, yet Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet) continues to paint pretty pictures at his estate on the Mediterranean coast.
"The pain passes," he tells his soldier son, Jean (Vincent Rottiers), "but beauty is forever."
The embodiment of the beauty that the elder Renoir seeks is Andrée (Christa Theret), a ginger-tressed actress who poses nude for the painter in his studio and gardens. With brushes tucked into his bandaged hands by his doting female staff, the wheelchair-bound old man struggles to capture Andrée's curvature and coronal light.
Meanwhile, convalescing Jean and brooding younger brother Claude long for her healing touch. Adolescent Claude calls himself an orphan because his mother is dead and the old man that everyone addresses as "Boss" is more interested in female beauty than familial responsibility.
Claude's story is one of the many subplots that are blotted out by the light of the legendary Pierre-Auguste. When Jean becomes Andrée's lover, there are hints about gender-role reversal that are left hanging. Likewise, there are too few references to the war's toll, except for brief glimpses of what it has done to young flesh. And most frustrating is the way writer and director Gilles Bourdos alludes to silent cinema (in a family viewing party and a post-script about Jean's later carer as a Hollywood filmmaker) but doesn't quite connect the dots between the new and old art forms.
Yet as a visual object instead of a story, "Renoir" makes the kinship clear. While it might have been tempting to mimic the Impressionist painting style in the cinematography, Bourdos finds a golden mean between the media, as the landscapes have a painterly light and the close-ups of Renoir's brushstrokes add movement to the static canvases.
For those who just want to float away on waves of beauty, "Renoir" is a boating party.
• Rated: R with nudity, adult themes and some graphic images. In French with English subtitles.
• Director: Gilles Bourdos.
• Cast: Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Rottiers.
• Running time: 111 minutes.