Jean Renoir’s film ‘A Day in the Country’ and Guy de Maupassant’s story ‘A Country Excursion’: A comparative analysis in the context of Dudley Andrews’ three adaptation strategies

Introduction:

A Day in the Country is one of Renoir’s early forays into narrative story telling.  One can see the tentativeness of a filmmaker finding his feet in the new medium which was only a few years past the silent films era. A characteristic of the fledgling days of cinema was its seeking of ideas and stories from classic literature and theatre.  In the context of French cinema, works of such iconic writers as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Alexander Dumas were heavily drawn upon.  Guy de Maupassant’s short story A Country Excursion is one among many instances of early cinema embracing literature.  But there are numerous challenges in adapting a work of art to a radically different medium.  Theatre and cinema can be said to share some affinity in terms of principles of mise-en-scene, accepted rules of screen-play, shared exploration of genres, etc.  But literature to film is a big leap and film theorist Dudley Andrew identifies three basic types of adaptation – borrowing, intersecting and transforming sources.  In the case of A Day in the Country to varying degrees all the three types are at play.

Borrowing:

The film is said to be borrowed from the short story to the extent that there is divergence in their details pertaining to characterization, geographic description, projection of individual motive, etc.  In borrowing, “the artist employs, more or less extensively, the material, idea, or form of an earlier, generally successful text…the adaptation hopes to win an audience by the prestige of its borrowed title or subject…at the same time it seeks to gain a certain respectability, if not aesthetic value, as a dividend in the transaction”. (Andrew, p.422)  Renoir’s work satisfies some of these criteria better than others. Certainly the literary work is the very basis for the project of the film. Moreover, Maupassant was a household name in early twentieth century France, and thus brings a degree of prestige to the project at hand.  But the particular short story, A Country Excursion, does not have the same name recollection as its author does.  Renoir’s enterprise does succeed in fulfill the twin key criteria of bringing respectability and aesthetic value to the transaction.  The cinema produced is no injustice to the artistic standards of its source.  The additional provisions afforded by the new medium add more vibrancy and color to the source text.  So the idea of the film can certainly be said to have been borrowed, though with certain qualifications.

Intersection:

This form of adaptation is found to be the weakest in A Day in the Country.  Intersection is the most infidel methods of transmuting words to film due to its limited objective.  The goal of the filmmaker is less constrained, for he/she is not concerned with the entire written work but only one idea/feature within it.  The task then is to experiment and find out what ‘cinema’ as a medium can ‘do’ to the original.  At its heart is creative curiosity and experimentation on the part of the director.  Renowned French film critic Andre Bazin has expressed intersection through the metaphor of light. Andrews paraphrases Bazin thus,

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