A charismatic thief makes friends with a bankrupt baron who comes to live in the thief's slum. Meanwhile the thief seeks the love of a young woman, who is held emotionally captive by her slumlord family.
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Cashier Maurice Legrand is married to Adele, a terror. By chance, he meets Lucienne, "Lulu", and makes her his mistress. He thinks he finally met love, but Lulu is nothing but a streetwalker, in love with Dede, her pimp. She only accepts Legrand to satisfy Dede's needs of money. Written by
The narrative frame (puppet show) of La Chienne (The Bitch) certainly defies realism, which is all the more apt since the story is told tongue-in-cheek and the characters are caricatures. The title is no cultural argot misnomer as the drama seems akin to a circus show involving a hibernating bear (the cashier), swallowing anaconda (the whore), howling wolf (the wife) and vampire bat (the pimp) all thrown into the same pit together. What arises is great drama and misplaced sympathy by audiences. Der Blaue Engel (1930) is infinitely more straightforward in its portrayal of paralysis and consumption (not to sound too Kracauerian here). La Chienne is layered - almost convoluted, but without being obvious. Although the puppets in the narrative frame assert that the characters are plain and the drama is amoral - they are just puppets! How plain is a woman-beating drunk? How amoral is a drama that ends in a courtroom? La Chienne is a film that would have evoked different emotions from each audience member. For some (puppet-like) spectators, the narrative frame proves familiar and reassuring while for a more engaged spectator, deeper mysteries can be unearthed. The narrative frame is thus in service to Renoir's impresario approach to film auteurship. "What matters in life is to know the right people" is a statement scoffed at by Simon's character and to his ultimate ruin. The ending itself has a utilitarian feel (a complimentary reversal of M. Lange in many ways). "Ca prend de tout pour faire un monde" is one of the final lines in the film and underscores the teasing out of an ambiguous politics pushing and pulling between utilitarian affirmations and humanist sensitivities. As for Renoir's stylistic developments in La Chienne - there is a great use of depth of field in key scenes (especially in Simon's art studio). The narrow hallways as a mode for the construction of offscreen space is prevalent (as in On Purge). Mobile framing creeps in at the end of the film and is ironically liberating. It's most novel use is when Renoir sways back and forth with the dancing couple (pimp and whore) in the bar. There are some nice tracking shots at the police station as well. Although, Renoir is starting to liberate the camera in La Chienne, it remains in the service of character psychology and not construction of space by an unobtrusive auteur. In this regard, La Chienne shows itself to be a reasonable midway point between Renoir's silent films and his 30s masterpieces.
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