|Index||10 reviews in total|
With "la chienne",French cinema enters the pathway to genius.During the
thirties,it will be one of the best in the world.In those ancient
times,it used to walk from strength to strength,encompassing the most
phenomenal innovations the seventh art had ever known.Opening and
closing his film with a puppet theater,Renoir predates Mankiewicz's
"Sleuth" prologue(1972) and countless others by decades.Punch and
Judy,what a derision!
Renoir has begun his wholesale massacre;the bourgeois society ,the army ,the justice are his main targets.M.Legrand,whose spouse is a shrew,keeps a mistress,Lulu,(la chienne=the bitch)who doesn't care a little bit about him and who has herself another man in her life ,Dédé.This dandy sponges her off.Legrand and Lulu are actually longing for tenderness,but a society in which money and respectability run rampant leaves them with no chance at all.It's when he rebels against it that Legrand will find his way.His wife-shrew always compares him to his first hubby,a warrant officer killed in action during WW1?Never mind that,when the soldier comes back -he was actually prisoner in Germany-,Legrand gets rid of his missus!Now he thinks he can live with Lulu but he finds her in bed with her lover.Now Legrand will despise the rule of the game(that's Renoir's 1939 movie title).
SPOILERS.SPOILERS.SPOILERS. You've got to follow the pack.Legrand kills Lulu (as the precedent user has pointed it out,the scene is a model of film noir murder:we see nothing of the crime but a knife;the camera stays in the street,focusing on a busker,playing a heartrending tune on her violin,only showing the windows of the house.)When Dédé is accused of the murder,Legrand will not surrender:he used to be a respectable man,and he knows that the society will always be siding with the "moral ",and that it will be happy to condemn a lazy pimp.Renoir allows himself the most immoral ending you can think of,and in 1931,at that!
At the end of the movie,Legrand,who now thoroughly refuses the golden rules,has become a tramp.It's a tramp like this who will rise from the gutter to shake the bourgeois society in "la chienne" follow-up,"Boudu sauvé des eaux"(avoid the remake"down and out in Beverly Hills").It's no coincidence if Michel Simon plays Legrand and Boudu.These two works are Renoir at his most ferocious .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on the same novel, this film and Fritz Lang's magnificent SCARLET
STREET are almost identical in terms of plot. A painfully shy and
friendless office cashier, Maurice Legrand (brutally ironic name), lives
with his shrewish wife, and paints cathartically in his spare time. After
an office party one night, he comes across a young brute hitting a woman.
They are actually lovers, pimp Dede and employee Lulu, but contrive a
to have Legrand pay for a well-appointed apartment while Lulu pretends to
his lover. To pay for this he robs his employer, and when this runs out,
the lovers fob off his paintings as Lulu's. They are a success and earn
fame and fortune.
Legrand is paralysed by life with his intolerable wife, whose sublime military dead husband is repeatedly extolled to Legrand's detriment. One day, however, he comes across this very much alive paragon of virtue, a blackmailing tramp who feigned his death to escape the same wife. Legrand sees an opportunity to at last divest himself of her, and, on the pretext of stealing her money, reunite the happy couple. Delighted, he packs up, and heads for his young mistress, who, unsurprisingly, lies in bed with her lover.
As the subject matter are almost (thought, crucially, not totally) identical, the difference between the two films must be sought in approach, style, emphasis and omission. Lang's 1945 film owes much to the contemporary film noir cycle, as well as the subversive male melodrama. SCARLET STREET is much more about the price of humanity and expression under capitalism, the alienation of both the worker and the artist from his work, as well as the suffocating nature of American respectability.
STREET has been accused of being a compromised essay in guilt, but it is not remorse that torments Chris Cross for the rest of his life, so much as his failure to escape his initial hell on earth; his blind adhesion to a false escape that taunts him even after it has been removed. Lang's style is perfectly suited to this interpretation, harsh, austere, geometric, entrapping his characters in formal grids, both interior and exterior, fixing them with pitiless irony when they seem most free.
This is alien to Renoir's reputation for a warm, humanistic temperament, and his film is much brighter and more playful, although, in the early 1930s, we have many of noir's central tenets - the weak man brought down by a femme fatale; the inevitability of Fate expressed through plot; the use of interiors, framing and shadows to visualise the mindset of the trapped protagonist.
But Renoir's attitude to all this is not altogether serious. There is a structural affirmation of play that seems to reject the film's literal aspirations. For instance, CHIENNE opens with three Punch and Judy-type puppets fighting over what kind of film this is. While their struggle enacts the events of the film, it also ridicules it; and their final conclusion is that the film has no moral and isn't about anything.
In a very real sense, it isn't; it's about the destruction of values and morals. Lulu and Dede betray certain moral codes in manipulating Legrand; the courts emasculate themselves by executing an innocent (of murder anyway) man; Legrand escapes his shrewish wife, his oppressive job and lives the blissful, almost communal life of a tramp (which, as has been pointed out, looks ahead to Renoir's next masterpiece, BOUDU SAUVE DES EAUX), reward for theft and murder.
Renoir achieves this amorality with a tacitness that is startling in retrospect. Although he is constantly ironising throughout the film - often the performers begin performing (see Legrand revealing her 'dead' husband to his wife); the studied use of frames, mirrors, paintings, windows etc. continually draw attention to the constructed nature of the film - his critique of the bourgeois is more generous than Lang's, its oppression less a living thing than lived in.
Legrand's predicament is expressed in his being made crouch at home and work by vast bourgeois accoutrements, constantly bumping into, and being dwarfed by, things. By tiny details, such as a neighbour hanging out washing, or a child playing a piano, Renoir points to another world outside this torrid prison. This is typical of his method - his privileging of deep space asks us to look and imagine beyond, to interpret what we see and look for alternatives.
This is most brilliantly illustrated at the moment of the film's climax, when Legrand discovers his betrayal. Instead of resorting to heated close-ups, hysterical music, meaningful shadows, Renoir quietly takes his camera outside of the scene, moves it slowly around the apartment until, non-dramatically, we see its components through a curtained window. We are reefed out of the drama, shown that it is a drama, that there are other realities, namely that of the camera, and our own, and asked to ruminate thereon.
This is not to suggest that CHIENNE is a chilly formal excercise. Renoir loves people too much for it to be that, but asks us to look at what shapes people and their decisions. If he's not quite as sympathetic to his villains as Lang, he places much emphasis on class, and Lulu's showing her friend her new apartment with its bathroom is very touching and highly revealing. Likewise, Renoir doesn't make as much play with Legrand's paintings as Lang - they are less expressions of his diseased unhappiness for a start - but puts them into a wider context of framing and perspective (it's ironic that austere formalist Lang should seem more humanistic than humanistic Renoir).
The murder scene is a genuine masterpiece, weaving together all the different themes of sexual unhappiness, betrayal, the public and private space (the murder is intercut with a beautifully nostalgic busking session on the street), art as expression and concealment. The whole sequence - from murder to Dede's discovery of the body - is a model of Renoir's method, formally precise, yet powerfully emotional.
This 1931 Jean Renoir French movie has a story of all times. It's about
a man who falls for the wrong girl and gets deeper and deeper into
problems because of it. What can be more lethal than a woman? The drama
is complex and multiple layered and mostly works out so well in this
movie since the story by no means is a standard formulaic one. The
movie does a very good job at remaining an unpredictable one throughout
its entire running time and you just never know how the movie is going
to end or in which direction its heading to.
Jean Renoir was one the greatest early French movie directors from the 20th century. With this movie he makes his first 'talkie'. It's notable in parts that this was still all fairly new and all for him and there are some small clumsiness's. He fairly much keeps the same style as movie-making he used for his earlier silent productions. This is mostly notable with the compositions within this movie. Not that this is a bad thing in my opinion. It gives the movie a great look and style that also seems really fitting for this particular movie and its story.
It's a great looking movie with high production values. The camera-work is just great and the movie in parts also uses some great editing, that shows a scene from different camera angles. It doesn't do this throughout the entire movie though, since like I said before, the movie mostly keeps is made silent-movie style. Perhaps it was an early sign of things that yet had to come for Jean Renoir, when he in 1937 with "La Grande illusion", that used lots of deep focus and camera-movements, something that also heavily inspired Orson Welles, among others, which is also really notable in "Citizen Kane" of course.
Michel Simon gives away one fine performance as the movie its main character but the rest of the actors in acting within this movie is perhaps a bit uneven. But perhaps this also had to do with the fact that this was Jean Renoir's first sound movie and he had to become yet accustomed to working with dialogs and actors performing them.
Unfortunately the movie uses some of its speed toward the ending but the movie at all times remains interesting and compelling enough to make you keep watching and just loving this movie right till the very end.
A great first sound movie from Jean Renoir.
I do not know what else to add to the previous two reviews before mine. The movie begins as two puppets argue about the theme of the movie we are about to see. One swears it is a comedy. The other avers that it be a tragedy. Both are slapped out of the way by another who says it is neither. Let us be the judge. The tale of a sad sack bank employee who sweats his whole life in a job he hates and falls for a low-life woman has similarities to the Dietrich classic Blue Angel but this movie has bigger themes and issues on its mind. His hilarious deduction and situational comedy as the man tries to outwit his way out of his marriage and the calamity that befalls him diagnoses the gray line that is life. And the bitter sweet ending endorses that in life, we may not get what we want but we might revel in what we need; and true happiness is a figment of mere necessity. A wonderful movie that must be seem. P.S. For those who appreciate the art of movies, you cannot but marvel at the directional technique of Renoir. The man understands cinema. His transitional shots are sublime and ridiculous in a good way propelling the movie along. And a murder scene is so effectively staged, it reminds that it might have been executed by Hitchcock himself. Long live great cinema and great directors who enrich our empathy for it!!!
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.
If you're someone who likes the films of Jean Renoir this is a must-see
that's my highest praise. It's pretty essential in the history of
French cinema too, although the keeping of it in perspective is now
absolutely essential thanks to the onslaught of Time. As someone who
has loved the works of Renoir all my life I don't know why it's taken
me decades to get round to La Chienne - I've had it to watch for years,
but at least I've finally managed it. Advice: don't leave it too long.
Timid art-loving bank clerk with a scold for a wife who carries a torch for her dead previous husband falls in love with a woman who carries a torch for her rather violent waster of a boyfriend. Everyone is on the make, everyone is dislikeable, and everyone gets what they deserve with one apparent exception. Michel Simon as Legrand acted his heart out surrounded by the circling human sharks, both direct and in the case of all the art-dealers, indirect. In Boudu he became a rather shabby shark. Janie Marese also had an intensely realistic part in the Tart without a heart Lulu a tragedy that she died in a car crash on the way to the film's premiere. The gleaming photography was inventive for the time, almost magical in its spareness, and you're utterly immersed the world of 1931 its atmosphere, its people and their mores. The sound was a bit primitive, but it is in real life.
Marvellous stuff - the realism is complete, it's either a human tragicomedy or not, or a simple dark moral tale or not or nothing at all, or not. Anyway, imho it's most definitely a perfect companion piece for the classic Boudu which was to follow the next year from Renoir.
After a series of movies during the silent era, La Chienne (1931) was
Jean Renoir's first sound picture. It tells the story of Maurice
Legrand, a naive man who falls in love with a prostitute and
subsequently has his financial resources extorted from him by the
prostitute and her pimp. La Chienne is an interesting early look at
thematic concerns and stylistic devices which Renoir would return to in
his later films, and a great picture in its own right.
The film follows Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon), a weak man who takes disrespect from both his wife and the co-workers at his job. One night while walking home from work, Legrand encounters the character Lulu (Janie Mereze) being beaten in the street. He intervenes and walks Lulu home, becoming smitten with her during their first interaction. Unbeknownst to Maurice, however, Lulu is actually in cahoots with her pimp boyfriend Dede (the man who was beating her earlier in the film), merely playing up her romance with Legrand so he'll give her money and paintings which her and Dede will later re-sell at a higher price.
Like many early talkie films, the acting and dialogue comes across a bit stiff and impersonal - Renoir still working in silent mode and yet to fully accommodate changes in cinema technology. That being said, the production value is excellent, the film filled with the soft focus photography and fluid camera movements that would later become Renoir's staple. The film's greatest strength lies in Renoir's humanity for his characters; as a puppet show at the beginning suggests, in this story of a man putting his love in the wrong place and getting used there are no heroes and villains, only people, people with their own histories, own potential for good and bad, and own self-interest. This element of the film makes it feel grounded in real life and provides it with a strong authenticity.
In summary, La Chienne is a great early piece by Renoir which serves as a precursor to his later films with its similar thematic concerns and style. If you are looking for an entry point into Renoir's body of work or have seen the director's more famous films (Grand Illusion, Rules of the Game) and want to backtrack to get to know his oeuvre more intimately, I would highly recommend it. It is the film that kicked off a decade-long winning streak for the French auteur, but taken on its own it's also just a fine piece of cinema.
Even though the movie Scarlet Street is a remake of La Chienne, they
bear many differences in the plot and tone of the movie. While Scarlet
Street is very Film Noir in style, the original film (La Chienne) is an
odd movie that is very hard to classify because it seems made up of
several different genres AND because it deliberately avoids going the
directions you think it will. While not a terrific movie (the plot lags
here and there and the acting, with the exception of the fantastic
Simon, is uneven). I give the movie a lot of credit for trying to be
different and for a 1931 French film, the production values are good.
Although I will not explain exactly how they differ, know that this French film does not follow the Hayes code so it will seem a bit seamier than the American version and the ending is anything but Hollywood inspired. In fact, the French version is MUCH better, because the later Hollywood film "cops out" and tacks on a much more predictable and sanitized ending. Now that I think about it, chienne" means "bitch"--this SHOULD clue you in that the French film is indeed seedier.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story is well-known to film noir fans because it was remade as
"Scarlet Street". As told by Jean Renoir, this excellent film is
replete with irony. As advertised at the outset, this punctures big
holes in both conventional morality and any optimistic view that human
nature as it reveals itself in human relationships can ever be seen as
anything but a complex mixture of virtues and vices.
No character in this story is a conventional hero or protagonist. No character is a moral paragon or even close to it or even aspires to it. Michel Simon is the putative hero, but he becomes a murderer who lets another man be executed for his crime. He's henpecked and making no move to escape his condition until he happens to fall for a prostitute, Janie Marese. She's strictly out for what she can get out of Simon materially, and her emotions allow her to be dominated by her pimp, Georges Flamant. However, Marese is not a malicious person. Flamant manipulates Marese. Although he lies to his pals, he comes across as being true to his own swaggering self and not being a really nasty or vindictive person. He is visibly upset after seeing Marese's corpse. Michel sets Marese up in an apartment and resorts to embezzlement. He takes great glee when his shrew of a wife's first husband, thought to be dead, turns up alive. The wife is a terror, but Simon clearly has some dark emotions. He's as amoral as the story. Under the weight of material drives and emotions, morality disintegrates for all of these characters.
Renoir's direction is well thought out, creative, careful, and effective. The style is not at all the dominant Hollywood style of its time. Fritz Lang's style in "Scarlet Street" is also vastly different than Renoir's in "La Chienne". As an example, there are several scenes that establish Simon at work or in the company of his fellow workers. In the first case, there is a dinner around a big table. We see all the men first having a very good time. When the camera finally moves to the seated Simon, we see him quiet, head slumped, and we don't get a full view of his face. He's aloof, in a different world. Then when the men move out to go to some night spots, Simon parries their requests with obtuse sayings. In the second scene, the camera follows Simon as he passes by each man at his desk. He's again looking down at his account book, oblivious to them and their comments. In two very different ways, Renoir has told the story so as to inform us about Simon's character.
The murder in "La Chienne" is not shown on camera, that is, no actual physical violence is shown, and no blood is shown. It's done in a totally different way than one might see on today's screens for typical movies. We see the pair together before and after the deed is done. In "Scarlet Street", we see Robinson stab Bennett 4 or 5 times, she being beneath the covers on the bed. Also, no blood. Although both killings are in anger, the Robinson character is made more sympathetic. Simon shows no remorse. He is sadistic and mean, unlike Robinson. This is only the beginning of differences in the two movies that could take up many pages to analyze. "La Chienne" is a much more realistic picture than "Scarlet Street".
Who is the bitch? It's not Marese through and through, even if she taunts Simon. It's more Simon's wife, and maybe she has helped create the kind of a man that Simon is.
"La Chienne" provides a good test case for the question of what a film noir is. The stories are the same or almost the same for this movie and the remake, yet "La Chienne" is not usually called a noir while "Scarlet Street" is. What tips the balance? It cannot be the dark photography alone in "Scarlet Street" because of the many films subsequent to it that are called noirs and lack its darkness. Is it because the devious characters of Duryea and Bennett are played up? They are taken more for granted in "La Chienne". I have no answers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By 1931, Renoir had completely abandoned the innovative
superimpositions and wild set designs that characterized his silent
films. In La Chienne, he favored a stripped down, almost austere form
of realism; nearly every shot in the film is taken from a medium
distance and the camera movement is utilitarian. Even the compositions
offer few surprises, though one shot neatly emphasizes a character's
reaction to his lover's betrayal by detaching the perspective and
filtering it through various obstructions.
The stripped down style Renoir employs in the film brings the focus to the plot of the film, which involves an old fashioned, wholesome man who is mocked and taken advantage of by everyone he encounters. Eventually, this influence corrupts him totally and he joins the dregs of society. This happens gradually enough to make his transformation believable and genuinely shocking. It also suggests that society is rotten to the core, an idea that it has in common with the Naturalism movement, of which earlier Renoir efforts Whirlpool of Fate and Nana are obviously a part. Although it's tempting to read the film as a misogynist work, especially given that the title translates to The Bitch and that both of the major female characters are absolutely detestable, it's important to note that most of the minor male characters and especially the pimp are equally as reprehensible as either of the two women. In fact, the only character who is treated with much sympathy is the protagonist Legrand and even he ultimately falls from grace. Although Renoir would later gain a reputation for his humanism, this film's portrayal of humanity is as dark as they come.
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