Boats on the Marne

Boats on the Marne

Jean Renoir's Critique of Modernity
Prakash Younger
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/16/2017
Format: Hardback 45 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02901-0
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Boats on the Marne offers an original interpretation of Jean Renoir’s celebrated films of the 1930s, treating them as a coherent narrative of philosophical response to the social and political crises of the times. Grounded in a reinterpretation of the foundational film-philosopher André Bazin, and drawing on work from a range of disciplines (film studies, art history, comparative literature, political and cultural history), the book's coordinated consideration of Renoir's films, writings, and interviews demonstrates his obsession with the concept of romanticism. Renoir saw romanticism to be a defining feature of modernity, a hydra-headed malady which intimately shapes our personal lives, culture, and politics, blinding us and locking us into agonistic relationships and conflict. While mapping the popular manifestations of romanticism that Renoir engaged with at the time, this study restores the philosophic weight of his critique by tracing the phenomenon back to its roots in the work and influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who first articulated conceptions of human desire, identity, community, and history that remain pervasive today. Prakash Younger argues that Renoir's films of the 1930s articulate a multi-stranded narrative through which the director thinks about various aspects of romanticism and explores the liberating possibilities of an alternative paradigm illuminated by the thought of Plato, Montaigne, and the early Enlightenment. When placed in the context of the long and complex dialogue Renoir had with his audience over the course of the decade, masterpieces such as La Grande Illusion and La Règle du Jeu reveal his profound engagement with issues of political philosophy that are still very much with us today.

Author Bio

Prakash Younger is Associate Professor of English at Trinity College.


Boats on the Marne once and for all establishes Jean Renoir as the supreme artist of the 20th century’s supreme art. With long-shots of startling philosophical backdrops that dissolve into delicate close-ups of Renoir’s inimitable style, Prakash Younger shows how a staggering string of masterpieces progressively penetrated the conundrums of 1930s France until La règle du jeu grasped, like no other artwork let alone film, the full comic tragedy of our modernity.”
 — Dudley Andrew, Author of 'What Cinema Is!'

“In Boats on the Marne, Prakash Younger deploys a sophisticated philosophical approach to Renoir’s films of the 1930s, demonstrating their coherent and reflective response to what he calls ‘the historical dangers of the times’. His ambitious model of ‘dialogic auteurism’ melds innovative close analysis of Renoir’s ‘dispassionate’ camerawork with a scrupulous understanding of his films’ multiple cultural genealogies and historical contexts. In particular, the in-depth analysis of La Règle du jeu illuminates the film’s structure as an evocative portrait of civilization that is then ruthlessly destroyed. Younger successfully reactivates a Bazinian model of Renoir criticism to propose a profoundly ethical understanding of cinematic ontology and its picturing of the contingency of human social relations. His erudite yet deeply personal work will be welcomed by Renoir and film-and-philosophy scholars alike.”
 — Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau, Editors of 'A Companion to Jean Renoir'

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Table of Contents

Preface: The Enigma of La Règle du Jeu
Introduction: Jean Renoir, Cinephilosopher
1. Genesis and Style of the French Renoir
2. Escaping from Flaubert or, Reflecting on Romanticism
3. Loving the Distance or, Historical Experience and the Fruits of Reflection
4. La Règle du Jeu or, Putting Modernity in Question
Conclusion: Why La Règle du Jeu Matters