HomeReviewsBlu-Ray Review: Jean Renoirs Sublime ‘Toni,’ From The Criterion Collection

Blu-Ray Review: Jean Renoirs Sublime ‘Toni,’ From The Criterion Collection

In this Blu-Ray review, we delve into the sublime cinematic experience of Jean Renoirs ‘Toni,’ presented by The Criterion Collection.

Toni (1935) signifies a departure for Jean Renoirs on various fronts.

Filmed predominantly on location in the south of France, it deviates from the director’s previous studio-bound projects.

There is a subtle resemblance to his father’s en plein air technique, resulting in idyllic pastoral settings.

Toni (1935): A Blu-Ray Journey into Renoir’s Realism

Much like A Day in the Country (1936), Renoir’s subsequent unfinished masterpiece, Toni quietly revels in its outdoor locales—be it a hedge-lined path or a shaded hillside.

Although the emotional depths reached in Toni surpass the melancholy tone of A Day in the Country.

Jean Renoirs Sublime

Moreover, Toni stands out in Renoir’s body of work due to its focus on the working class, portraying a true story about migrant workers in Martigues.

In Criterion Disc’s introduction, Renoir acknowledges that he recognized class as a more significant distinction than nationality.

Yet, this distinction could be clearer-cut, as a wry early scene reveals two men complaining about new immigrants before disclosing that they are recent immigrants.

The film’s frequent asides, featuring primarily nonprofessional actors, and its documentary-like style—longer takes, few close-ups—position it as a clear precursor to Neorealism.

However, its commitment to melodrama overshadows the film’s social and political impulses.

The narrative, centered around a love triangle between Italian worker Toni (Charles Blavette), Marie (Jenny Hélla), and Josefa (Celia Montalván), is intense, but Renoir downplays it.

Until the final act, the film’s shockwaves are more a result of its omissions than explicit events.

For instance, Toni’s faintly flirtatious meeting with Marie, the boarding house owner, transitions almost immediately to him waking up in her bed, their relationship already in the doldrums.

As Toni accepts he can’t have Josefa, the film delivers a gut punch by cutting to a wedding banquet after she marries Albert (Max Dalban), Toni’s casually cruel boss at the quarry job.

The film’s realistic textures—funeral processions, quarry workers’ labor, a train entering the town, a band playing a folk song—anchor what evolves into a heightened tale of violence, prompting Renoir to shift to incongruous close-ups.

This verité-style background also sparks moments of poetic sublimity, both tender, like Josefa’s seduction of Toni via a wasp sting.

It is also mournful, such as a character’s suicide attempt captured in a breathtaking long shot across a vast expanse of sea.

Toni is a breathtakingly beautiful film in all its facets, and its presentation on Blu-ray by Criterion is a fitting match.

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer originates from a new 4K digital restoration, yielding highly pleasing results.

Images exhibit a beautiful depth to the grain texture, vital fine detail, and impressive black-and-white levels.

While a few dropped frames are throughout the film, the damage is invisible elsewhere. The uncompressed mono soundtrack is also clean, with no significant issues.

On the supplements front, Criterion includes the Kent Jones and Phillip Lopate commentary track from the long out-of-print Masters of Cinema DVD release.

Conversational yet dense with information, it proves to be a robust track from two heavy hitters.

Additionally, the package features the first part of Jacques Rivette’s three-part Cinéastes de notre temps series on Renoir, titled “Jean Renoir le patron: La recherche du relatif.”

Although it briefly covers Toni, it is worth watching for Renoir’s self-effacing commentary and Rivette’s essay-like approach.

A new video essay by Christopher Faulkner delves into the film’s production history, including its now-lost, more extended original cut and Renoir’s association with Marcel Pagnol, who had a regional studio.

The 1961 Renoir introduction rounds out the disc, and an insert with an essay by scholar Ginette Vincendau is included in the package.

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