Craftsmanship, intelligence, and refined sentiment are the hallmarks of Bertrand Tavernier’s exquisite French feature (1984), a model of how much ground can be covered with the smallest movements. In 1912 an elderly painter (Louis Ducreux) is visited at his country home by his straitlaced son (Michel Aumont) and his family; the old man’s daughter, a flighty vision in white (Sabine Azema), arrives unexpectedly but leaves early. That’s about all that happens, yet Tavernier, through his fluid, concentrated camera style, control of light, and nuanced direction of actors, turns the anecdotal material into a penetrating study of family dynamics and a moving account of an elderly artist realizing his work may not withstand the test of time. The two themes are woven together with beauty and force, emotionally fused in a climactic sequence that links the white of the daughter’s gown to the summoning blankness of a fresh canvas.
Suggested by a recent Jonathan Rosenbaum post; relevant extract added here as counterpoint:
…And what has all this, one might ask, to do with Bertrand Tavernier? As a director whose well-crafted, middle-class/middle-brow forays have often suggested a passionate defense of mediocrity — his Oscar-winning Sunday in the Country comprising in this respect a veritable Oatmeal Manifesto — he has not so much abandoned his customary muse here as obliged some of us to reconsider it.