A SUNDAY in the Country," a French reflection on golden pond, is an exquisite film from Pierre Bost's novel "Monsieur Ladmiral Va Bientot Mourir," the story of a 76-year-old artist who has clung to the conventions of art while his contemporaries, the Impressionists, have painted a revolution

"of light and color.

Middle-class pleasures -- a picnic on the lawn, a promenade by the lake, peach-colored women in sunny windows -- are the subjects of the film, as they were of the Impressionist painters. Degas, Monet, Manet or Renoir might have held the camera that cinematographer Bruno De Keyzer uses with such fluency in what becomes a retrospective of the Impressionist masters, a shimmering series of luminous, fleeting scenes.

Monsieur Ladmiral (Louis Ducreux) is only a competent painter, known and loved perhaps, but not a master. He is painting a loveseat draped with a shawl when his family, first his dutiful son and later his dashing daughter, arrive for a day's stay. His son Edouard (Michel Aumont) is painfully bourgeois, but kindly treated by director Bertrand Tavernier. Tavernier recognizes the beauty of ordinary people -- Edouard's plain, aspiring wife Marie-Therese (Genevieve Mnich) and their kids, two noisy boys who pull the legs off June bugs and a perfect little girl who hugs her mother's legs.

Ducreux, after 50 years of acting, won his first leading role as Monsieur Ladmiral, a cautious man whose life is indeed measured in coffee spoons and aperitifs. Still, life seems to be moving faster for Ladmiral, carefully but not cloyingly played by the astute Ducreux.

Every gesture, every glance is to be treasured in this closely framed film. Each performer stands posed for the painter, the moment captured and released as quickly as it came. bine Azema, as the breathtaking, glamorous, inconsiderate, impetuous daughter Irene, seems almost to come stepping from a canvas by Renoir.

Irene, who catches them all napping, wakes up the day. All who see her want to be like her, even the little girl who climbs a tree to be adventurous like Aunt Irene. She is youth, life and inspiration to her father, who has come near to the end of his life, but not to the end of his vision.

This very moving film is a pensive, peaceful work. The minutes tick by tranquilly as they do in the country, to the time of the cicadas and the grandfather clock. The sound is as ambient as the light, the cathedral choir heard at matins joined with the music of Gabriel Faur,e, a conventional but assertive composer who was to Debussy what the fictional Ladmiral is to Degas. It is another brilliant stroke in this adroitly composed film by Tavernier, who cowrote the screenplay with his wife Colo.

It is a perfect film, an immensely complex portrait of the French, the family, th artist, the immortality of the moment, and the rejuvenation of ambition.

A SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY -- At the K.B. Janus and the Outer Circle.