A Day in the Country ★★★½

Visually sumptuous, intoxicating Renoir paean -- from a Guy de Maupassant story about a spontaneous affair on a single afternoon -- to the idyllic glories of the French countryside will make anyone with a pulse want to join that picnic just for the romantic "yearning" (Henriette's word) and beauty it conjures up. Sadly, quite apart from its unfinished state -- which actually enhances its mysterious vagueness to an extent -- the story it tells is surprisingly toxic, especially for its director, hinging so much on an unlikable philanderer (Jacques Brunius) and his tagalong (Georges D'Arnoux) discussing the seduction of their female visitors as if it's some kind of game being played with plastic toys. And when the key encounter eventually happens, it's despite a series of refusals and resistances that makes it seem more like a rape, with the impulses of neither Henriette nor Madame Dufour (the wonderful Jane Marken) given any respect by the men, which wouldn't necessarily condemn the film itself if not for the fact that the final scene expects us to look back on this moment with hazy, heartfelt fondness and longing. Renoir unmistakably respects his female characters and views them as complete people (the film's most intelligent dialogue invariably comes from Henriette, read with ethereal charm by Sylvia Bataille), and perhaps his larger plan for the film could have redeemed its problems, but as things stand that cavalier treatment of subtle brutality traps this in its time more than a little.

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