"Toni" (1934) by Jean Renoir is a landmark in French filmmaking. Based on a police dossier concerning a provincial crime of passion, it was lensed on location in the small town of Les Martigues where the actual events occurred. The use of directly-recorded sound, authentic patois, lack of make-up, a large ensemble cast of local citizens in supporting roles, and Renoir's steadfast desire to avoid melodrama lead to Toni often being labeled "the first 'neorealist' film.
The New York Times wrote at the occasion of the screening of the movie at the New York film festival in 1968: "Film descendants of Renoir — Rossellini, for example, and through him Truffaut and Godard, who worked with him — sometimes refer to themselves as the Children of Toni. The movie, which is, naturally enough, in black and white, is about Basque, Southern French and immigrant miners in the Midi, and it has a curious, muted, infinitely poetic way of treating human passion."
But besides its prominent place in film history the movie is characterized by another aspect that is usually overlooked. "Toni" is the result of a rather outstanding collaboration between Renoir (the son of the famous painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir) and the german-jewish art theorist Carl Einstein who contributed the script and the dialogues. Einstein is regarded as one of the most influential theorists of the european avantgarde movement of the early 20th century. As a close friend of Picasso and Braque he was among the first critics who appreciated and theorized the development of cubism.
Kunstakademiet i Trondheim
Norwegian University of Technology and Science (NTNU)