The line sounds absurdly melodramatic, but it's delivered in a steely tone. "You'll end up in the old man's bed. Like my mother. Like all of them." Played by a taciturn Thomas Doret, the younger son of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir knows the score. He has seen the painter's models, with or without underthings, come and go, like so much French laundry.
Coco, played by Doret, is a sideline player in the conventional but extremely pretty "Renoir," directed by Gilles Bourdos. The story here belongs to three characters: Renoir, the cripplingly arthritic impressionist master nearing the end of his life; an older son, Jean, recently injured in the Great War and home to convalesce, destined to become a great artist ("The Rules of the Game") in the rival medium of film; and the alluring, raven-haired model Andree Heuschling, who comes to live and work and love in a household marked by incriminating sidelong glances and lace curtains wafting in the breeze.
The dramatic tension, such as it is, derives from Jean's affair with Andree. He's vexed by this unpredictable muse; he's also living under the psychic thumb of his famous artist father, and she exists, in story terms, to light a fire under his complacency. As biographical cinema it's all rather placid and well-behaved, considering the feelings at stake for these real-life characters. But as eye candy, Bourdos' film goes a pretty fair distance.
The movie looks like a million francs. Set in 1915 in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, Bourdos' picture was photographed by cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee, who imagined a deeply saturated universe of color for Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love," and a more subtle, pastel-inclined Paris for Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon." Scenes, typically wordless, of Renoir in his wheelchair capturing the mostly naked Andree for all time, with brushes and canvas, will be quite enough for all sorts of moviegoers looking for some easygoing bourgeois culture, plus art-related nudity. It's right there in the MPAA rating of R: "for sequences of art-related nudity." As the painter Renoir, 87-year-old Michel Bouquet is quite perfect, while Vincent Rottier — resembling a younger, Gallic Edward Norton — neatly suggests the artistic heir in training, forged in combat but destined (for a while, at least) for a postwar life with Andree, his father's last model, portrayed with blithe allure by Christa Theret.
'Renoir' -- 3 stars
MPAA rating: R (for sequences of art-related nudity and brief language)
Running time: 1:51; in French with English subtitles
Opens: Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema and CineArts 6 in Evanston