5 items from 2016
Popular discussions of Jean Renoir tend to highlight his most renowned titles from particular periods of his career, though his greatest contributions and considerable reputation rest mainly on a handful of iconic titles from the 1930s, such as his early masterpiece Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932, remade several times in French and English, including by Paul Mazursky with Slums of Beverly Hills), and Grand Illusion (1937, notably the very first entry in Criterion’s esteemed collection).
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- Nicholas Bell
“The Streetwalker And The Sucker”
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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- email@example.com (Cinema Retro)
This summer, Grindhouse Releasing will unleash a three-disc Blu-ray of Cat in the Brain—directed by and starring Lucio Fulci—and they will also bring the horror film to cities nationwide with a theatrical re-release beginning in June and ending in August:
Press Release: Hollywood, Calif. — Grindhouse Releasing has set a July 12 street date for the new deluxe 3-disc Blu-ray edition of Lucio Fulci’s nightmare classic Cat In The Brain. The movie will be touring theaters all over the U.S. this summer, starting June 2.
Cat In The Brain is a psychological masterpiece in the tradition of such cinematic classics as Psycho, Strait-jacket, Eraserhead and Fellini’s 8 1/2. Acclaimed Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci, director of Zombie and The Beyond, stars in this blood-soaked epic as a director being driven insane by his own movies. Fulci is thrust into an ultra-violent nightmare of death and depravity where murder and madness »
- Derek Anderson
A retrospective at San Sebastian Film Festival will show all 13 of Jacques Becker's features. Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival San Sebastian Film Festival has announced that it will dedicate a retrospective to French filmmaker Jacques Becker.
Born into money, he considered himself a Communist and trained in the cinema of the Popular Front, working as Jean Renoir's assistant on films including The Grand Illusion, Madame Bovary and The Marseillaise.
His work includes Casque d’Or, Edward and Caroline (Édouard et Caroline) and Hands Off The Loot (Touchez pas au grisbi) and he was a key name in the evolution of French Cinema. The Cahiers du cinéma critics saw in him the modernity that they »
- Amber Wilkinson
For a man who created forward-thinking, boundary-pushing cinema embraced by small, devoted sects of cinephiles, Andrzej Żuławski‘s Sight & Sound list of favorite films is, in so many words, surprisingly traditional. Few would look upon it and say it contains a single bad film on it, but those who’ve experienced his work might expect something other than Amarcord; maybe, in its place, an underground Eastern European horror film that’s gained no real cachet since the Soviet Union’s collapse.
That isn’t to suggest something inexplicable, however. The Gold Rush‘s fall-down comedy could be detected in some of Possession‘s more emphatic moments of physical exhaustion, and, while we’re at it, visual connections between On the Silver Globe and 2001‘s horror-ish stretches aren’t so out-of-bounds. So while this selection may not open your eyes once more to cinema’s many reaches, one might use it »
- Nick Newman
5 items from 2016
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