All too often, Renoir has been simplistically characterised as a 'realist', poetic or otherwise. This little gem from his silent period, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, gives the lie to both that categorisation and to the director's own oft-quoted assertion that he had only made one film over and over again. For here, as the little match girl (Hessling, then his wife) lies dreaming in the snow - her would-be customers and a gendarme become toy soldiers and a jack-in-the-box - Renoir revels both in various optical effects and in the fantastic nature of the dying girl's delirium. The imagery, an extraordinarily potent blend of impressionism and expressionism, creates a genuinely poignant magic, confirming the director's origins in the avant-garde. (The film under review is the sonorised version. The considerably longer silent version has been lost.
Cast and crew
Jean Renoir, Jean Tedesco