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La Chienne (1931) More at IMDbPro »La chienne (original title)

2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013

5 items from 2016

Criterion Close-Up – Episode 57 – French 1930’s Part 2: Early Jean Renoir

22 December 2016 4:17 PM, PST | CriterionCast | See recent CriterionCast news »

Mark and Aaron continue the French 1930s series by exploring the early career of Jean Renoir, easily the most recognizable director from the period. We begin with the beginning, by looking at his origins and childhood. We look at his early silent films, his first sound adaptations, and a couple of films from the middle of the decade where he began to settle into his poetic realist style.

7:00 – Why Renoir?

9:30 – Origins of Renoir

20:00 – Silent Renoir (Catherine, Whirlpool of Fate, Nana, Charleston Parade, The Little Match Girl)

51:30 – Early Sound (On purge bébé, La Chienne, Boudu Saved From Drowning)

1:21:30 – Poetic Realism in Mid-Thirties (Toni, A Day in the Country)

French 1930s Episode 1 Jean Renoir Taschen book Republic of Images Renoir Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago DVD Beaver – Jean Renoir Collector’s Edition Aaron West – A Day in the Country David Blakeslee – A Day in the Country »

- Aaron West

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New to Streaming: ‘Knight of Cups,’ ‘Mountains May Depart,’ ’45 Years,’ ‘Eye in the Sky,’ and More

17 June 2016 8:48 AM, PDT | The Film Stage | See recent The Film Stage news »

With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit the interwebs. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.

45 Years (Andrew Haigh)

Andrew Haigh’s third feature as a director, 45 Years, is an excellent companion piece to its 2011 predecessor, Weekend. The latter examined the inception of a potential relationship between two men over the course of a weekend, whereas its successor considers the opposite extreme. Again sticking to a tight timeframe, the film chronicles the six days leading up to a couple’s 45th wedding anniversary. »

- The Film Stage

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Recommended Discs & Deals: ’10 Cloverfield Lane, ’45 Years,’ ‘La Chienne,’ and More

14 June 2016 6:43 AM, PDT | The Film Stage | See recent The Film Stage news »

Every week we dive into the cream of the crop when it comes to home releases, including Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as recommended deals of the week. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg)

Forget the Cloverfield connection. The actors who were in this film didn’t even know what the title was until moments before the first trailer dropped. Producer J.J. Abrams used that branding as part of the wrapping for its promotional mystery box, but the movie stands perfectly alone from 2008’s found-footage monster picture. Hell, 10 Cloverfield Lane perhaps doesn’t even take place within the same fictional universe as that film — although a friend asked if it’s secretly a Super 8 sequel, and, honestly, you could think of it as one without contradicting anything in either movie. Whether the Cloverfield name fills you with wariness or enthusiasm, it would be unwise to burden Dan Trachtenberg‘s film with such prejudices. – Dan S. (full review)

45 Years (Andrew Haigh)

Andrew Haigh’s third feature as a director, 45 Years, is an excellent companion piece to its 2011 predecessor, Weekend. The latter examined the inception of a potential relationship between two men over the course of a weekend, whereas its successor considers the opposite extreme. Again sticking to a tight timeframe, the film chronicles the six days leading up to a couple’s 45th wedding anniversary. Though highly accomplished, Weekend nevertheless suffered from a tendency towards commenting on itself as a gay issues film, which at times overrode the otherwise compelling realism. Despite treating material arguably even more underrepresented in cinema – senior relationships – Haigh avoids this same self-reflexive pitfall in 45 Years, pulling off an incisive and emotionally ensnaring tour de force. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Alexander Hall)

A sophisticated supernatural Hollywood comedy whose influence continues to be felt, Here Comes Mr. Jordan stars the eminently versatile Robert Montgomery as a working-class boxer and amateur aviator whose plane crashes in a freak accident. He finds himself in heaven but is told, by a wry angel named Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), that his death was a clerical error, and that he can return to Earth by entering the body of a corrupt (and about-to-be-murdered) financier—whose soul could use a transplant. Nominated for seven Oscars (it won two) and the inspiration for a sequel with Rita Hayworth and two remakes, Alexander Hall’s effervescent Here Comes Mr. Jordan is comic perfection. –

La Chienne (Jean Renoir)

Jean Renoir’s ruthless love triangle tale, his second sound film, is a true precursor to his brilliantly bitter The Rules of the Game, displaying all of the filmmaker’s visual genius and fully imbued with his profound humanity. Michel Simon cuts a tragic figure as an unhappily married cashier and amateur painter who becomes so smitten with a prostitute that he refuses to see the obvious: that she and her pimp boyfriend are taking advantage of him. Renoir’s elegant compositions and camera movements carry this twisting narrative—a stinging commentary on class and sexual divisions—to an unforgettably ironic conclusion. –

Also Arriving This Week

Eddie the Eagle (review)

Hello, My Name is Doris (review)

Get a Job (review)


Recommended Deals of the Week

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See all Blu-ray deals.

What are you picking up this week?


- The Film Stage

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La chienne (1931)

13 June 2016 9:53 PM, PDT | Trailers from Hell | See recent Trailers from Hell news »

It's the time-honored tale of the cuckolded lover, his heartless woman and 'the other guy,' told in terms that Émile Zola would endorse. Jean Renoir's first full-length talkie is a little masterpiece of social observation and indifference to sentimental niceties. Michel Simon is terrific as the clerk who has a tough time with illicit love. La chienne Blu-ray The Criterion Collection 818 1931 / B&W / 1:19 flat full frame / 96 min. / available through The Criterion Collection / Street Date June 14, 2016 / 39.95 Starring Michel Simon, Janie Marèse, Georges Flamant, Magdeleine Bérubet, Roger Gaillard. Cinematography Theodore Sparkuhl Film Editor Marguerite Renoir Written by Jean Renoir, André Mouézy-Éon from the book by Georges de la Fouchardière Produced by Pierre Braunberger, Roger Richebé Directed by Jean Renoir

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

We American film students learned about Jean Renoir's La chienne only in the context of its remake. It's an earlier version of the book by Georges de la Fouchardière, that was also adapted for Fritz Lang's 1945 noir Scarlet Street. Renoir's film has never been readily available here in the States, an oversight now corrected with Criterion's new Blu-ray. The good news is that the French restoration of this tale of vice and virtue is beyond good -- the movie looks absolutely new. The even better news is that the movie is a revelation, the equal of Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning. This is the kind of movie that might suffer in a bad presentation -- the ability to soak up its atmosphere and detail makes all the difference. Yes, the title does translate as The Bitch, a straight-up vulgarism. The story parallels most of the same events of the Lang version. A puppet theater prologue tells us that story has no moral, no lesson to be learned. Company cashier clerk Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon) is a meek, henpecked husband and a Sunday painter. Maurice's wife Adèle (Magdaleine Bérubet) harangues him about her beloved first husband, to whom he'll never measure up; work colleagues make fun of the meek Maurice behind his back. Late at night Maurice meets Lucienne Pelletier (Janie Marèse), who he does not realize is the sometime-prostitute of Dédé (Georges Flamant), a vain, brutish punk who takes the money she squeezes from the men she meets and beds. He beats her for good measure, but she seems to enjoy it. Maurice has soon installed Lucienne in a love nest. He tells Adèle that he's thrown his paintings away, but instead puts them on the walls of Lucienne's apartment. She and Dédé have the mistaken impression that Maurice is rich, but he keeps her by stealing money from his wife, and eventually, the office safe. Then something unusual happens. Dédé tries to sell Maurice's paintings as the work of Lucienne, and has success. She is soon signing his paintings as a supposedly well-known American artist named Clara Wood. Critic Langelard (Alexandre Rignault of Eyes without a Face) promotes 'Clara's' art because she offers him sexual favors. Dédé makes much better money pimping Lucienne in the art world, than he did on the street. Far too naturalistic, 'earthy' and sordid for anything Hollywood might have produced in 1931, Renoir's La chienne turns a 'way of all flesh' tale into a sharp criticism of society. The milquetoast Maurice Legrand is too naïve to realize that he's being had by Lucienne, a femme fatale well versed in hooking wealthy, vulnerable clients. Lucienne herself is a romantic fool, hopelessly in love, or lust, with a man who treats her like dirt. The more abuse Dédé dishes out, she just comes back for more. When Maurice declares his desire to take Lucienne away, she laughs in his face without a shred of sympathy or basic respect. Stories like this do not have happy endings, and La chienne's main task is to imply that the art world is as big a racket as prostitution. 'Clara Wood's' paintings become big sellers because Dédé pimps Lucienne to a critic willing to praise them for sex. The art dealer and the critic collude to tout 'Clara's' paintings to new clients, one of whom we see getting quality time with the artist as well. As director Renoir was of course the son of the famous painter Auguste Renoir, it's easy to see a personal connection in the critical view of Art as a business. Renoir used live location audio, adding greatly to the film's realism. As there was not as yet any audio mixing for French films, the tracks are beautifully miked to pick up ambient sounds. We even hear the clacking of Lucienne's shoes on the cobblestoned streets. Theodor Sparkuhl's night exteriors are every bit as sophisticated as later low-key, deep focus work in '30s poetic realism and '40s film noir. The rain we see in some scenes may be real as well. The film isn't about crime and retribution, but the grand ironies of 'the oldest story,' a foolish love that leads to murder. The tale turns comic when Maurice has to deal with a man from Adèle's past, who turns up unexpectedly and then figures in the even more ironic ending. The three main characters are just terrific. Michel Simon is a very different character than his bohemian Boudu from the following year. The actor is also far thinner than we're used to seeing him, in films made just a few years later. Janie Marèse is as dangerous a female as ever hooked a man. Lucienne's unreasoning, limitless love for Dédé makes her pure poison for a defenseless fellow like Maurice. Georges Flamant also demonstrates great skill as a thorough, unrepentant louse. Comparing La chienne with Lang's Scarlet Street sets the difference between the humanist and determinist filmmakers in strong relief. Both Renoir and Lang see the events as an unstoppable consequence of human nature, but Renoir's view is much warmer. Maurice lives in a full spectrum of human interaction, even if most people take him for a fool. But he's essentially a warm and accepting person, and his one moment of violent rage is fully understandable. When all is said and done, with his life ruined, Maurice can still laugh at the absurdity of it all. Life goes on, somehow. Lang's version is a chilly noir thesis that makes its innocent hero (Edward G. Robinson) a more innocent victim, not only of Joan Bennett's cheap tart, but of his employers and society itself. His rich boss doesn't even have to hide the fancy woman he keeps on the side, whereas Robinson's wife keeps him around mainly to wash dishes. As one expects from Lang, the plot twists are sharper, wickedly ironic and cruelly merciless. Lang doesn't believe in 'live and let live'.' Haunted by what he's done, his poor hero goes insane. Life does not go on. Renoir's film has a music theme under the titles but I believe the rest of its music is organic, always with a source in the scenes. The beautifully filmed murder takes place with a ballad singer entertaining in the street. Unable to protest when his wife compares him unfavorably to her first husband, the long-lost soldier, Maurice instead sings a mocking children's song about a soldier who went to war and didn't come back. [When we screened La chienne, my wife jumped up immediately at the sound of the song. It has a nearly identical Spanish counterpart, "Mambrú Se Fue A La Guerra." Mambrú went to war, and if he comes back it'll only be at Easter and Christmas. Most likely, it'll be never. To my mind it's a great children's song because it reflects the reality of war glory. There's the Sunday Savant culture lesson for you.] The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray of La chienne is simply terrific -- it looks much better than many expensively restored American movies from this year. The producer must have kept the picture and audio masters in perfect conditions. The rich images display a modulated granularity that heavy digital processing would surely have removed. Being from 1931 the sound does carry a light surface noise. The extras explain that a few lines recorded on location are weak, but I didn't notice as I of course was reading the English subtitles. It's a welcome disc indeed. Christopher Faulkner hosts the 25-minute overview featurette. He covers the love triangle that developed among the actors during filming, and the sad fate of the film's star Janie Marèse. Faulkner places the film in Jean Renoir's career, explaining that in the 1920s the director was often adjudged a dilettante. He had to prove himself before the producers would let him do a sound feature. Here in its entirety is Renoir's short (50 minute) film On purge bébé from the same year, a talkie Renoir was obliged to film to prove he could handle sound. The title translates as Baby's Laxative -- it's a comedy from a play by George Feydeau, about a manufacturer of chamber pots whose son is constipated! Michel Simon is a visitor to the house, where Baby's parents carry on a marriage squabble suitable for a music hall farce. Playing a small supporting part is a young Fernandel. On purge bébé must have been kept in the same magic film can as the main feature, for it is fully restored and just as perfect. Jean Renoir offers one of those introductions filmed for French TV in the early '60. Much rarer is a 90-minute 1967 TV show hosted by Jacques Rivette, in which both Jean Renoir and Michel Simon reminisce about their careers and La chienne. The precise, informative insert essay is by Ginette Vincendeau; and the attractive cover art is by 'Blutch.' Criterion's disc producer is Elizabeth Pauker. On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, La chienne Blu-ray rates: Movie: Excellent Video: Excellent very surprisingly so Sound: Excellent Supplements: Introduction to the film from 1961 by director Jean Renoir, New interview with Renoir scholar Christopher Faulkner, New restoration of On purge bébé (1931), Jean Renoir le patron: 'Michel Simon' a 95-minute 1967 French television program featuring a conversation between Renoir and Simon, directed by Jacques Rivette, Essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau. Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? Yes; Subtitles: English Packaging: Keep case Reviewed: June 12, 2016 (5139chie)

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Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson


- Glenn Erickson

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Review: “La Chienne” (“The Bitch”; 1931; Directed by Jean Renoir) Blu-ray Criterion Special Edition

12 June 2016 3:55 AM, PDT | | See recent CinemaRetro news »

“The Streetwalker And The Sucker”

By Raymond Benson

Fans of Fritz Lang’s film noir of 1945, Scarlet Street, may do well to take a look at this little French gem from 1931. Lang’s film was a Hollywood remake of La Chienne, which was based on a novel by Georges de La Fouchardière (it was also adapted into a stage play by André Mouëzy-Éon). More significantly, La Chienne was the second—and first feature length—sound film by the great Jean Renoir.

Renoir had done well in the silent era, but the invention of talkies presented the filmmaker with a larger palette of tools with which to craft some of his greatest works. Beginning with La Chienne, Renoir became France’s premiere director, a position he held for a decade.

La Chienne translates as “The Bitch,” and viewers may question which woman in the picture the title is referring to—the lead, Lulu, a beautiful blonde “street woman” (a con artist and often a prostitute), who serves as the femme fatale of the story (and wonderfully played by Janie Marèze)... or the wife of our protagonist, such a shrew of a woman that there’s no wonder why we sympathize with the poor schmuck, Maurice (portrayed by the brilliant Michel Simon), a banker and part-time painter who does everything he can to get away from his marriage and set up Lulu as his mistress. Of course, Lulu is really being played by her lover and pimp, the nasty Andre (played by real-life Parisian gangster Georges Flamant, who was also an amateur actor). Maurice is merely the mark, the sucker who is seduced by lust and led to his ruin.

Unlike Scarlet Street, La Chienne is more melodrama than film noir. Renoir handles the material well without making it overwrought, and he succeeds in developing fine character studies of the three leads. Those familiar with the director’s later masterpieces such as Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) will find this early work fascinating. Renoir’s signature mise-en-scène is easily identifiable, even in its baby steps. Also impressive are the street scenes shot on location—this was the real Paris of 1931, displayed in glorious black and white.

Michel Simon, like Renoir, was one of France’s biggest film artists. Originally Swiss, Simon made French silent films and later had a long run as an actor in talkies. He has a distinctive Bassett Hound face, perfect for betraying first the joy and then the pain Lulu puts him through. According to Renoir scholar Christopher Faulkner, who talks about the movie in one of the disk’s supplements, apparently Simon fell in love with the actress playing Lulu off-screen. But, like in the film, Janie Marèze was seeing Flamant, and this relationship was encouraged by Renoir. Not long after production was completed, Marèze was killed in an automobile accident with Flamant at the wheel. At the funeral, Simon allegedly threatened Renoir with a gun, but he must have calmed down, for Simon starred in a subsequent Renoir feature, the excellent Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932; incidentally, this was remade in Hollywood in 1986 as Down and Out in Beverly Hills).

The Criterion Collection’s release features a new, restored 4K digital transfer that looks so pristine and sharp you might think the film was made last week. There’s an uncompressed monaural soundtrack and a new English subtitles translation. Supplements include an introduction to the film by Renoir himself, shot in 1961; the aforementioned interview with Faulkner on the movie; a sparkling new restoration of Renoir’s first sound film, the short On purge bébé (also 1931), a comic bauble based on a one-act play by Georges Feydeau and also starring Michel Simon; and a ninety-five minute 1967 French TV program featuring a conversation between Renoir and Simon. An essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau adorns the booklet.

A fine, notable release, and a must for lovers of European cinema.

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2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013

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