What could be more idyllic than a day in the countryside? Cherry trees, boating, a lovely picnic, a ride on the swings, a beautiful innocent romantic from the city, two charming gentlemen...
In real-life, as opposed to much cinema, meaning isn't always signposted; it is often revealed in seemingly trivial, off-hand comments and brief gestures. So it is in Partie De Campagne. We are whirled effortlessly through a naturalistic world where everything is frothily jolly on the surface, but we find that we have been made aware of the more fraught world of the playing out of human motivations.
Henrietta does her best to maintain her romantic faith, but we who know of her lover's sexual pragmatism, who have looked up her skirt (or imagined we have), who have been voyeurs to her affair, know that reality will intrude. On the banks of the river, she may have been distracted from her own seduction, rapt by the nightingale's beautiful mating call, but we were paying due attention to the taciturn boatman's insistently physical advances.
This is Renoir expertly using visual shorthand to create a sense of lyrical natural beauty, and simultaneously layering it with a direct but subtle irony, all the while maintaining a jaunty pace. It adds up to forty minutes of meaningful, magical, and ultimately poignant cinema. Technically innovative but never frivolously so, Partie De Campagne is fresh and exciting even 75 years since it was made.
It's a push to say the film is finished, but it does work as a self-contained piece, although the narrative leap to the final scene is rather large. As good as the piece is, as a purchase a full price DVD for an unfinished forty minute film is too much.