Synopsis "Antonio Canova, known to his friends as Toni, arrives in southern France with a train load of other immigrants to work in a quarry. He becomes the lover of his landlady, Marie, but quickly finds himself attracted to Josefa, a Spanish immigrant who lives with her father Sebastian and her cousin Gabi at a nearby vineyard. Albert, Toni's foreman, also has sights on Josefa, and just as Toni arrives with permission from Sebastian to marry her, he finds her and Albert emerging from a bout of lovemaking. A double wedding ensues: Albert marries Josefa, and Toni marries Marie. Two years later, both marriages have gone sour. Shortly before dying, Sebastian asks Toni to be the godfather to Josefa's child. Toni is still in love with Josefa, and when he insists on attending Sebastian's funeral despite Marie's objections, Marie attempts to drown herself, only to be saved by some fishermen. Marie announces that she doesn't want Toni back. and he camps outside Josefa's house. hoping to escape with her to South America; Gabi, meanwhile, who has become Josefa's lover and is being cheated out of his inheritance by Albert, is nurturing the same plan. He persuades Josefa to cut loose the money purse that Albert wears around his neck while he is sleeping and goes to Toni to ask for the latter's motorcycle for his and Josefa's escape. Outraged, Toni forces Gabi back to the house; meanwhile, Albert has caught Josefa stealing his purse and beaten her with a belt, which provokes her into killing him with his gun. Gabi leaves with the money and motorcycle, and Toni attempts to leave Albert's body in the forest - making his death seem like a suicide - but is caught in the act by a gendarme. He confesses to the murder to protect Josefa, but then breaks away. Josefa, who has joined Toni's friend Fernand by this time, decides to turn herself in. Toni is shot down by the railway tracks as another train of workers pulls in, and dies in Fernand's arms."
"Shot in Provence as a production of Marcel Pagnol's studio in Marseille, Toni is one of Renoir's most important films. Using only real backgrounds and mostly non-professional actors, it is considered by many (including Renoir) to be a forerunner of neorealism. The story concerns an immigrant Spanish farmworker, Toni, and his relations with two women, one who loves him, one whom he loves. Made in 1934 on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, Toni captures the spirit of fraternity and fatalism with which Renoir viewed the working classes of the thirties." - Pacific Film Archive
"A melodrama about love and sex, jealousy and murder - the sort of staples that have kept the cinema going for ninety years or so - but Renoir invests it with a sense of character and place that gives it an unusually blunt and sensual impact. Neither romanticising his workers nor turning them into rallying-points, he accepts them as they are and follows them where they go. The plot is based on a real crime that occurred during the '20s in Martigues, a small town in the South of France where the film was shot. Jacques Mortier, an old friend of Renoir's who was the local police chief, assembled the facts, and Renoir wrote the script with another friend, art critic Carl Einstein. The results are both stark and gentle, as well as sexy. Toni sucking wasp poison from Josefa's lissome neck is a particularly fine moment." - Jonathan Rosenbaum, Time Out
"Renoir likes to point out that Toni, shot entirely against real backgrounds mostly with nonprofessional actors, is the first neorealist film. In fact, what is striking about Toni is its dream-like quality, the fantasy-like atmosphere surrounding the rather ordinary drama. The mise en scene is entirely "invented", and particularly disconcerting and primitive when compared to La Chienne, for example. One gets the impression that Toni was made in an improvised, even disorderly way.
"The most remarkable thing about the movie is not the contrast of the characters of the two women but the delineation of the two distinct stages in the life of one woman, Josepha. Before her marriage to Albert she is a seductive tease, exciting, irresistible. Afterward, she becomes just another poor victimized woman, like Marie. The scene where Josepha, stung by a wasp, implores Toni to suck out the poison, all the poison, is unforgettable.
"In every gesture of Max Dalban in the role of Albert one can recognize Renoir caricaturing himself as he directs his look-alike. Toni is one of the five or six most beautiful of Renoir's films, a tragedy in which the sun takes the place of Fate." - Francois Truffaut, Jean Renoir (ed. Andre Bazin)
"Toni has often been described as the forerunner of the Italian neo-realist films. I do not think that is quite correct... The Italian films are magnificent dramatic productions, whereas in Toni I was at pains to avoid the dramatic. I attached as much importance to the countrywoman surprised while doing the washing as to the hero of the story. I had various thoughts mind. For one thing, a number of carefully selected close-ups seemed to me a way of depicting my characters that was abstract and even stark; also the use of natural backgrounds enabled me to achieve a realism that was as little distorted as possible.
"Now, after a lapse of time, when I can see things a little more clearly, I think I may say that what characterized Toni is the absence of any dominating element, whether star performer, setting or situation. My aim was to give the impression that I was carrying a camera and microphone in my pocket and recording whatever came my way, regardless of its comparative importance. Nevertheless, I had given myself a framework. Toni is not a documentary; it is a news item, a love-story that really happened in Les Martigues and was told to me by my friend Jacques Mortier, who at the time was Chief of Police in that small town. I scarcely needed to adapt it for the screen.
"Another way in which it differed from Italian neo-realism was in my use of sound. I am a passionate believer in authentic sound. I prefer sound that is technically bad, but has been recorded at the same time as the picture to sound that is perfect but has been dubbed. The Italians have no regard for sound, they dub everything. I remember visiting Rossellini when he was shooting Paisa. The actor in the scene he was directing asked to be given some lines. 'Say whatever you like,' said Rossellini. 'I shall alter the dialogue anyway in the editing.' This was a joke, but it was symptomatic. The difference of approach does not prevent me from being a profound admirer of Italian films. Although Rossellini and De Sica use artificial sound, the feeling conveyed by their films is none the less profoundly real. In Toni the sound of the train arriving at Les Martigues station is not merely the real sound of a train but that of the one which one sees on the screen. On the other hand, the entirely artificial sound- track of Rome - Open City is nothing but a sort of accompaniment to one of the most masterly productions in the history of the cinema.
"Toni, made on a small budget, signalled the accomplishment of my dream of uncompromising realism. I saw in it the final defeat of the Musketeers and all heroes of melodrama. How wrong I was! While I imagined I was filming a squalid episode based on real life, I was recounting, almost despite myself, a heart-rending and poetic love-story.
"Every scene in the film was shot either out of doors or else in a genuine interior. The actors, although they were not all amateurs, all came from the Midi, and their local accent was as genuine as the countryside of Les Martigues, which provided the background for the film. For the first time in my life, it seemed to me that I had written a script in which the elements completed one another, not so much through the plot as by a sort of natural equilibrium.
"Toni was to speed up my separation from the notion of the predominance of the individual. I could no longer be satisfied with a world which was nothing but the dwelling place of persons having no link between them. The problem of life is not one of isolation for fear of having to share that treasure, the self, the absolute self, but of integrating with others. In the film I began to feel the importance of unity. I had always liked the close-up and I still do. As I have said, the close-ups of the beautiful Hollywood actresses had had a lot to do with driving me into the cinema. But too many close-ups of faces entirely filling the screen express the isolation of the individual. One reason for this is that these close-ups are generally photographed at different times. Take, for example, a passionate love-scene between a man and woman. On the screen, and by the use of editing, they are physically together, but for technical reasons - lighting, sound, camera-angles - the woman has not been photographed at the same time as the man. This can be seen and, even more, it can be felt. To my mind, a love-scene, like any other, should be shot with the protagonists together. They have to forget the existence of the camera, the director, the microphone and the lighting equipment. In Toni I made a point of using panninig shots which clearly linked the characters with one another and with their environment.
"This caused me to try out a variety of lenses, and I came to the conclusion that optically one must not expect miracles. Either one uses a wide lens which gives greater luminosity at the expense of the background, which becomes hazy, or else the lens one uses gives the details of the background but is less luminous and therefore requires additional lighting. From the moment when I realized the importance of unity I tried never to shoot a scene without some background movement more or less related to the action. It may seem surprising that I never used changes of focus. I do not care for this device. Those variations of the distance between foreground and background seem to me artificial.
"Another of my preoccupations was, and still is, to avoid fragmentation, and by means of longer-playing shots to give the actor a chance to develop his own rhythm in the speaking of his lines. To me this is the only way of - getting sincere acting. There are two methods of obtaining these longer sequences. One can leave out close-ups altogether and use as many middle- distance shots as possible, including general shots; but in this case the audience is too far away from the actors to be able to see their expressions. The other method, which I think better, is to shoot the actors in close-up and then follow their movements. This calls for great skill on the part of the operator, but the effect is sometimes remarkable. For myself, this pursuit of the subject by the camera has brought me some of my most thrilling moments, both in my own films and in those of other directors." - Jean Renoir, My Life and Films
"There is no getting around it, Toni is a masterpiece. Why it remained unappreciated for so long is a mystery. Perhaps we all had to be softened up by the Italian neo-realists before we could take Renoir's brand of unsentimental realism. Filmed exclusively on the locations where it took place, Toni is the true story of a crime passionel in the south of France, of a woman who realises too late the meaning of love, and a man who pays for this with his life. Toni is also an extremely beautiful film, not consciously beautiful or contrived; distilled from, truth, beauty comes as a by-product." - Richard Roud
"Who could fail to be affected by the direct, simple, spare, and so touching expression of the realistic psychology of these men and women, the primitive brutality of some, the dignity of many, the violence of those whom 'the town' (another word for the bourgeois social structure) has unleashed cynicism, the assertion of social violence? Who could avoid the feeling of naturalness that the filmmaker has created with such ability, tenderness and technical understanding?" - Leon Moussinac, Dictionary of Films
"The sincerity of the acting, combined with Renoir's realistic settings, hauntingly conveys the tragic mood of the story." - National Film Theatre
"Toni is one of the five or six most beautiful of Renoir's films, a tragedy in which the sun takes the place of Fate." - Francois Truffaut