The third part of Renoir’s impressionist trilogy (“The River,” and “French Cancan” are the others) is a gorgeously photographed panorama of the French countryside which serves as the background for a picnic thrown by a biologist who has perfected a method for ‘artificial insemination,’ and who furthermore, is about to run for “President of Europe!”
Catherine Rouvel plays Nennette, a beautiful country girl who has had bad luck with men but would very much like to have a baby. After hearing about the famous doctor’s techniques she decides to go and volunteer for ‘artificial insemination.’ She ends up being employed by the doctor’s staff and goes on the country picnic with them, during which the picnicers are subjected to ‘mysterious occurrences and temptations’ which are produced when a certain goat-shepherd plays his wooden flute! The famous biologist, very detached and committed to strict methods of reason, starts to discover the higher harmonies embedded in nature while he falls in love with the lovely Nennette, a union to which his political cronies are opposed.
The film is rich with fantastically beautiful images. The scene of Rouvel taking a skinny dip while the doctor casts quick diffident glances her way is one of the most poetic in all of cinema. Of special note also is the scene where all the picnicers ride on mopeds through the country lanes, which was the direct inspiration for the famous bicycling scene in Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim.”
Renoir takes what may at first seem like just a trivial comedy and turns it into an ultra-subtle, timeless and poetic meditation on the conflict between modern society and ‘natural imperatives.’ As always it is Renoir’s deeply romantic (in the best sense of the word)and compassionate view of humanity which underlies everything and makes his criticisms so poignant.