400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.

Filmmaker Jean Renoir, the son of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, is inarguably one of the great cinematic poets. He established a fluid, almost unobtrusive style that allowed him to burrow directly into the souls of his characters. In his most acclaimed film, The Rules of the Game (1939), he appears as a kind of buffoonish party guest, and speaks a line of dialogue that has come to be associated with the real-life filmmaker and all his films: "Everyone has his reasons."

Just this week I caught up with Philippe Claudel's directorial debut I've Loved You So Long (52 screens), which some critics have compared to Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married (216 screens). Both films feature contenders for Best Actress, both try to concentrate on human emotions and behavior rather than a forward-thrusting plot, and at least one film has been compared to Renoir. However, one film succeeds and the other fails, and it comes down to the issue of trust. One filmmaker steps back and lets his characters evolve within the film, and the other constructs the characters as specific types to drive the story (he tells rather than shows).

categories Columns, Cinematical