Aesthetic Formal Analysis
A Day in the Country is a french film from 1936 directed and written by Jean Renoir. The profound beauty of the film, the use of outstanding mis-en-scene and cinematography as well as the camera movement are absolutely breathtaking. In this formal analysis my goals is to evaluate the different points in mobile framing regarding the characters and the theme throughout the film. The key points I will be making reference to will help and support my point of view and the overall use of framing and structure.
The setting of the film is out in the country and the main focus is the use of nature and all of the surroundings and how it affects the characters and interactions. Renoir was able to achieve this character interaction through the eyes and facial gestures of Henri and Henriette, the main characters of the film in which the plot develops. The first frame of the film takes place by showing the water moving that gives the audience a mellow feeling and humbleness.
The sound of the opening scene is very melancholic and then becomes alive as it takes us into the view of the restaurant. During the first frame we see the carriage of a family that is heading into a remote location in the country. Renoir’s use of cinematography shows the different angles as the carriage makes its way into this unknown place. The film is juxtaposed as it shows a family who is trying to escape from the city in order to enjoy the countryside and two local men Henri and Rudolphe, who want to take advantage of the family, especially the women. There is not a lot of time spent on character exposition since the film is only 40 minutes long. Within the first frame we see how Renoir explored the characters of Rudolphe and Henri as they sit in the café. We see a close up of the men while they are talking about women, love and serious relationships. Then the camera moves towards the window and we are able to see the point of view from one of the guy’s as he stares at the women who are enjoying their time out in the swingers.
The first close up we encounter takes a look at one of the visitors, Henriette. What Renoir does on this close up is to single out the daughter, Henriette, whom we see on her swing. Here the camera focus on her movement and view from a low angle that enhances her beauty. The camera does not follow her steadily through the air. Henriette on her swing shows the audience a sense of freedom inseparable with nature. The film shows the audience that in nature we are just free and we are able to perceive a sense of joy and happiness. At this point of the film when we have several zoom ins and zoom outs as Henriette enjoys the swing.
There is also a great use of mis-en-scene when we see the priests placed in the frame and are walking by and staring at Henriette’s beauty, smile and sounds of freedom while she swings. Renoir’s does a great use of the camera on this part of the film. He uses Henriette as a centre of attention, she becomes the centre of consciousness for the viewer, as the camera moves along we actually move with her, identify with her and feel with her. The camera uses several points all around: from below, and also from the eye level and from above; from close, and also in long shots taken from different sides; flying with her on her swing, and also standing still as she swings forward and swings back. Henriette is being observed by others in the scene and this is when we see the add on of the mis-en-scene. She is being observed by boys and young seminarians passing by. Her radiant beauty and charming smile, set her apart from all the other characters in the film and reveals a sexual awakening that is coming from within and it is portrayed in every single scene of the film.
A second close up takes place after a while when Renoir returns to Rodolphe at the window, the window that framed Henriette like vibrant spectacle when he initially opened it, and he was also framed within that window as a persistent viewer. As the story develops, Rodolphe settles for the mother, and Henri takes a trip on a boat down the river with Henriette. On the scene when the two couples are boating in the river there is an overhead view of their boat gliding on the water, and we see it movement to movement, to a shot traveling along the river, with grasses and trees slowly going by on the shore. I see as well what I will call point-of-view shots in the film because they gives us the sense of looking at the river and its shores through the eyes of the character. Character’s like Henri and Henriette gently rocking on the boat. Renoir is able to give us a human touch of what a walk in the outdoors, a trip to the country and a ride on a boat down a river will feel when there is a connection or mutual attraction between two characters. As mentioned earlier this strong connection is felt and sense by the audience from the different angle perspectives and shots the camera takes as well as the close-ups.
Once the boat lands on a small part of the country, Renoir’s take on camera is just to focus on Henri and Henrietta. There is a tight close-up, with Henri’s hand on Henrietta’s cheek as she lies under him on the grass looking at the birds in a tree. Henrietta’s face is also cropped by the top edge of the frame so that we are able to see only one tearful eye looking at us. The movement of the camera during this scene reveals that Henriette is crying the tears of a virgin who is about to loose her virginity. There is a gap after the tear comes out of Henriette’s eye and as the camera makes us believe we assume Henriette and Henri just made love. The day darkens and a rainstorm takes over.
The camera now shows successive traveling shots that are the film’s most emphatic visual masterpieces, we see downriver as the rain falls and the trip comes to an end. The camera also shows the appearance of sunny nature as the camera continues to show the endless river, the sky and nature it tricks us into believing that years have passed in front of our eyes within a few seconds.
Renoir’s camera detaches itself not only from the characters but from the whole film. The sense of years passing takes us back to remember the day when a joyful family from Paris went out to visit the country and the youngest character ended up falling in love with a hopeless romantic guy and at the end she married someone else. The last shot of the film shows Henri and Henrietta once again back together in the forrest, talking and showing facial expressions of a broken heart, deception, lust and the irony of their secret encounters in the woods. The camera shows both characters from different perspectives and we realize they are still in love with each other.
Written by Felipe Medina for the Film Aesthetics course at Concordia University in Montreal.