During the First World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
On Purge Bebe is a funny little story but moves at a rather slow pace. The pace is understandable as the humor derives directly from the snappy patter between characters. I'm sure that Renoir had been chomping at the bit about sound film production leading up to this film. In fact, he suspends much of the development of his stylistic system in this film to focus on the "miraculous" ability to play out a drama with use of sync sound. That being said, there are some stylistic developments in On Purge as well as more novel uses of sound. The opening shot uses a door frame at the edges of the image frame - a technique for constructing diegetic space that Renoir was even implementing in some of his silent films. This convention is repeated in the hallway scenes which are intentionally narrow so as to include the edges of the space (the walls) as a connector to the offscreen space. These hallway scenes also present the possibility for depth of field, however, the scenario itself has limited characters unable to properly position into a deep staged setup. The fact that On Purge is a comedy and sound film leads to Renoir framing the characters in closer shot scales. However, one of the most clever uses of sound comes near the end of the film when the famous 30s French cinema trope of face-slapping is framed in a long shot while nothing is lost for the audience as the sound would have resonated through a spectator's mind like few other novel film sounds of the time. There are specifically French humorous moments (lost on me for the most part). The specific "toilet" humor juxtaposed with the military milieu, ignorance of geography (or simply of 'un-French' names) ironically juxtaposed with the titular Bebe's real name (anglicized ancient French name)and the bourgeois milieu juxtaposed with the crude and forthright personalities that inhabit it all help to create a humor with serious bounce. What can be said of this film as it relates to the common claim that Renoir was a "humanist" above all other things political? The anti-war attitude is hailed by an incorrigible brat which (for this reviewer) sooner reaffirms Renoir as ambiguous and ambivalent both to politics and humanism. Not much mobile framing or long takes in this one as the film plays out in three rooms, with half a dozen characters and is more intent on framing humor through the use of dialogue and sound. It is interesting to note that with sound film, seemingly violent actions can be understood as non-violent, making the introduction of sound nuanced to conform not only with concepts of Bazinian realism but also with the integrity of an art form. Renoir has fully broken away from the French Impressionist filmmakers as no avant-garde techniques are used in the editing of On Purge Bebe. I suppose it was a tenuous relationship to begin with as Renoir went on to demonstrate that his greatest strength as a director lay in his unobtrusive approach to being an auteur.
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