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A very stylish outing from Jean Renoir spun from a simple children's fable from Andersen into something even simpler but memorably bleak as well.
The little match girl of the title is not so little here in the beautiful Catherine Hessling giving a mesmerising performance for Renoir, who filmed her lovingly in soft or blurred focus throughout. The story moves logically from trying to sell matches to live to trying to light them to live, in between with a child-like pressed nose to a café then a toy shop's window to living the dream while freezing to death in the snow. When your time's up even sheltering from the falling snow under a single plank can be taken away from you. There's some great low-key fancy camera and set trickery in the toy shop dream sequence such as Karen dancing in slo-mo through nets, and lovely smoky visuals especially the life and death chase through the sky. It can sometimes remind you of a silent pop video - the crew must had have fun piecing it all together!
Although it doesn't say as much for human determination as Passion of Joan of Arc from the same year (what could!), I've always found anything by Renoir to be highly enjoyable, educational and a salutary lesson in how to make art not Art movies.
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