After completing his successful Madame Bovary (34), director Jean Renoir could have had the pick of France's top "name" actors for his 1935 film Toni, but chose instead to use nonprofessionals. The plot was based on a true story, brought to Renoir's attention by the sheriff of the village where it occurred. The story is the basic "good man destroyed by bad woman" conceit: An Italian laborer sets the gears in motion for Zola-esque tragedy by falling in love with a young woman, who then marries his foreman. This terse triangle is given verisimilitude by the unknown players and the location filming at the actual village where the real-life incident took place; what could have been relentlessly grim material is imbued with warmth and sentiment by Renoir. Taken for granted upon its initial release, Toni was obviously a major influence in the Italian Neorealist movement of the 1940s; the Renoir film finally and permanently secured classic status in the auteur-conscious 1960s.
by Hal Erickson synopsis