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The Lower Depths (1936)
"Les bas-fonds" (original title)

7.7
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 1,796 users  
Reviews: 14 user | 21 critic

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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Title: The Lower Depths (1936)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Pepel Wasska
Suzy Prim ...
Vassilissa Kostyleva
Louis Jouvet ...
Le baron
Jany Holt ...
Nastia
Vladimir Sokoloff ...
Kostylev
Robert Le Vigan ...
L'acteur alcoolique
Camille Bert ...
Le comte
René Génin ...
Louka - le philosophe (as René Genin)
Paul Temps ...
Satine - le télégraphiste
Robert Ozanne ...
Jabot de Travers
Henri Saint-Isle ...
Klestch - le cordonnier (as Saint-Iles)
Alex Allin ...
Tatar
André Gabriello ...
Toptoun - l'inspecteur des garnis
Léon Larive ...
Felix - le valet du baron
Nathalie Alexeeff ...
Anna - un pauvresse qui se meurt
Edit

Storyline

The winner of the Louis Delluc Prize as the most outstanding French photo-play of 1936, as selected by the Young Independent Critics of France (an organization and not a description.) The film treats the imprisoning hold of poverty; the disheartening odds of people rising from such social despair, and the ease in which those in the upper spheres of Society may descend. Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

10 September 1937 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Lower Depths  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Tobis-Klangfilm)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Finnish censorship visa # 021253. See more »

Goofs

As Kostylev lies dead on the anvil, the shadow of the camera can be seen approaching on the ground. See more »

Quotes

Vassilissa Kostyleva: One day, everything will be ours. We'll go away together. To live the good life where no one knows us.
Wasska Pepel: Stop it.
Vassilissa Kostyleva: You don't love me anymore. Why not?
See more »

Crazy Credits

The last scene zooms out and fades away to the end title: 'FIN'. See more »

Connections

Featured in Han-shojo (1938) See more »

Soundtracks

Title unknown
Lyrics by Charles Spaak
Sung by Irène Joachim
See more »

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User Reviews

 
If you could do it all again...
9 March 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Les Bas Fonds carries some weight in the fidelity department - the production was done through the Russian emigres' Albatros Film company while Gorky personally approved Renoir's script. That being said, most academics note Renoir's film to have a significantly less gloomy atmosphere, characterization and mode of expression overall than the novel. The opening shot is a tongue-in-cheek construction through pov mobile reframing. The identification of spectator with higher authority (the Count) is a method of placating the politics that would naturally arise when juxtaposing the milieu of the flophouse. Clearly, Renoir had an intention to take the edge off from the get-go. The long take and mobile framing is employed in the opening scenes (following the drunken young accordion player, also at the restaurant). A great depth of field frames social groupings and profiles multiple characters at once. Renoir attempts to fully establish his more famous stylistic system as dominant, however, some psychology creeps in on him (he'd be horrified to hear it I'm sure). Both Gabin's Pepel and Jouvet's Baron get one-on-one treatment from the camera. Pepel walks through an alleyway with shallow depth of field and later provides a police confession basked in hi-key lighting setup, while le Baron stands in one-shot closeup to contemplate the possible error of his ways at the casino. One starts to wonder whether Renoir was ever truly political given his portrayals of social classes always retain some element of genial acceptance. Gabin's Pepel was "raised with certain manners" while Jouvet's Baron distinguishes kindness through small gestures. Clearly not all bourgeois are up-tight "ham-grovelers" while not all working class are dangerous or rowdy. Then again, exploiting the stereotypes can be amusing (which Renoir does as well). There are some rare edits in Fonds, where Renoir employs vertical wipes (as if it represented flipping the pages of a book) and lends to a more psychological identification. The themes of "putting on airs" and "shedding upbringing" are played out through Pepel and le Baron, however they would certainly evoke a powerful unconscious psychological identification with spectators. This effect is reinforced through the blindfolded children's game and the concept that we are blind to the games we play and the lies we tell ourselves and others. The story plays off of the ancient Greek aphorism "Know Thyself". The baron explains that he has "fog in the brain" and it is a confession about a universal human nature. The ritualistic murder mirrors M. Lange but the collective is certainly a different 'animal' in Fonds with different aims and alms. Some have felt that Fonds fits into the category of 'poetic realism'. Pepel's rage, the gloomy mood, foggy nights, tight spots, criminal activities, working class milieu have all the makings of a Carne-Prevert entry to the subgenre. However, Gabin's apple scene with the baby provides far too much uplift as does the solidarity of the collective. The characters of Renoir's Fonds are inherently invested in their world unlike a film like Le Quai des Brumes. Consider the difference between the painter in Le Quai and Le Vigan's actor in Fonds. Le Vigan's character considers suicide a new beginning whereas the painter hopes not only to reach an end, but to erase everything that has already happened. If the actor could do it all again he would repeat himself like an actor does with their lines, whereas the painter would change everything. It is films like Les Bas Fonds that helped build Renoir's reputation as a 'humanist'... and with good reason because he cared deeply about the reciprocity of respect and the autonomy of creativity.


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