La chienne – The Criterion Collection #818 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 25, 2016 by Dennis Amith
I absolutely enjoyed “La chienne” for its wit, Renoir’s writing and direction, the performance of Simon and Mareze. Without a doubt, “La chienne” is a film that gives us a fantastic glimpse of the auteur that Jean Renoir would one day become. Recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1931 Establissements Braunberger-Richebe/1974 Les Films du Jeudi. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: La chienne – The Criterion Collection #818
YEAR OF FILM: 1931
DURATION: 96 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:19:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, French Monaural with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Film/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: June 14, 2016
Based on the Novel by Georges de La Fouchardiere
Directed by Jean Renoir
Adaptation by Jean Renoir
Produced by Pierre Braunberger, Roger Richebe
Cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl
Edited by Denise Batcheff, Pal Fejos
Art Direction by Marcel Courmes
Set Decoration by Gabriel Scognamillo
Michel Simon as Maurice Legrand
Janie Marese as Lucienne Pelletier
Georges Flamant as Dede
Roger Gaillard as L’adjudant
Romain Bouquet as Henriot
Pierre Desty as Gustave
Mlle Doryans as Yvonne
Alexandre Rignault as LAngelard
Lucien Mancini as Wallstein
Henri Guisol as Amedee
Max Dalban as Bernard
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.p.
Considered an auteur, there is no denying that within the oeuvre of Jean Renoir is several cinematic masterpieces.
From his films “The Lower Depths” (1936), “La Grande Illusion” (1937), “La Bete Humaine” (1938) and “The Rules of the Game” (1939), a decade before, Renoir was known for his silent films.
But with many careers ending from the transition from silent film to the talkies, with the success of Renoir’s “purge bebe” (1931), he would experiment with sound and trying to create a film quickly within a budget.
And so, Renoir would work on his next film, which included music being recorded in the studio during the acting, and once again, taking on a challenge with a longer film with sound.
And the result was “La chienne” (which translates to “The Bitch”), a film that Renoir had dreamed of making because it would feature one of his favorite actors, Michel Simon and it was also a film that utilized darkness via nighttime photography which would later become an influence in cinema.
“La chienne” also was a goal for Renoir to create a film that was adapted from a novel and a play. An adaptation of Georges de La fouchardiere’s novel, unfortunately “La chienne” wasn’t a box office draw, the film is seen as Jean Renoir’s starting point for cinema with sound and be appreciated by film critics many decades later. And a darker US adaptation would be made in 1945, directed by Fritz Lang, known as “Scarlet Street“.
“Le chienne” is a film starring Michel Simon (“L’Atalante”, “Port of Shadows”, The Passion of Joan of Arc”, “Boudu Saved From Drowning”), Janie Mareze (“Mam’zelle Nitouche”, “Le collier”, Amours viennoises”) and Georges Flamant (“The 400 Blows”, “Blind Venus”, “Midnight Tradition”).
“La chienne” would also be the final film of actress Janie Mareze, who was killed in a car accident (driven by actor Georges Flamant) shortly after the completion of the film.
Considered as a Renoir film that is not well known, “La chienne” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
“La chienne” begins with a party featuring a cashier named Maurice (portrayed by Michel Simon) and his co-workers. His co-workers tease Maurice because he doesn’t like to have fun, he always heads home and is often greeted with hostility by his uncaring wife Adele (portrayed by Magdeleine Berubet).
In his spare time, Maurice loves painting and his wife dislikes his paintings that litter the house.
After the party, as Maurice is going home, a couple Andre “Dede” Govain (portrayed by Georges Flamant) and his prostitute girlfriend, Lucienne “Lulu” Pelletier (portrayed by Janie Marese) are arguing as Dede needs money to pay off his gambling debts. When Lulu tells him that she has no money, he beats her.
But immediately, Maurice comes to her rescue and brings Lulu home.
Fastforward weeks later and we learn that Maurice has purchase an apartment for Lulu with new furniture and gives her spending money. We learn that Lulu is using Maurice, but she looks at this arrangement of being with Maurice necessary to save money but also to give Dede the money he needs, in order to strengthen their relationship.
As Maurice’s wife pushes him to rid of his paintings, he gives it to Lulu and puts it on the walls of her place. Needing money to pay off his debts, Dede sees the paintings and creates a story that Lulu is the true painter and needless to say, collectors start to purchase the paintings.
But as Dede tries to get Lulu to squeeze more money out of Maurice, Maurice who is unable to keep up with Lulu’s new lifestyle, begins to steal money from his company.
“La chienne – The Criterion Collection #818” is presented in 1:19:1 aspect ratio in 1080p High Definition. Picture quality is fantastic, the film features great clarity, wonderful detail and sharpness. Black levels are nice and deep, white and gray levels are well-contrast. It’s important to note that because of the aspect ratio, the screen size is smaller.
According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution from a 35 mm safety fine-grain made from the original 35 mm nitrate neagtive. The film was restored in 2K resolution at Digimage Classics by Les Films du Jeudi and of the Franco-American Cultural Fund DGA – MPA – SACEM – WGAW.”
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for the lossless audio, “La chienne – The Criterion Collection #818” in French LPCM 1.0 Monaural audio. The lossless soundtrack features crystal clear dialogue with no signs of major hissing, crackle or audio pops.
According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm optical soundtrack negative and restored by L.E. Diapason.”
Subtitles are in English.
“La chienne – The Criterion Collection #818” comes with the following special features:
- Jean Renoir Introduction – (2:43) An introduction to “La chienne” by director Jean Renoir from 1961.
- On Purge Bebe – (52:01) Jean Renoir’s first sound film from 1931 starring Michel Simon. This version is the newly restored version.
- Christopher Faulkner – (25:24) Jean Renoir scholar Christopher Faulkner discusses the filmmakers transition from silenfilm to talkies and the importance of “La chienne”.
- Jean Renoir le patron: “Michel Simon” – (1:35:13) A 1967 French television program featuring a conversation between Renoir and Simon, directed by Jacques Rivette.
“La chienne – The Criterion Collection #818” comes with a poster foldout which comes with the essay “He, She, And the Other Guy” by Ginette Vincendeau.
Every filmmaker has their beginning, but for Jean Renoir, despite having a successful silent film career, the early 1930’s, was a new beginning for filmmakers as it would lead many to experiment with spoken voices.
While the era of the talkies was not kind to many filmmakers and talent, for Renoir, having success with his first experimental sound film “purge bebe”, his film “La chienne” would be an important film. Some for good reasons but also for things that are not all that good.
For one, his dream was to work with actor Michel Simon, to create a film that was an adaptation of a novel and play and hope for a film that would jumpstart his career.
Unfortunately, “La chienne” would be devastating for Renoir, as his partnership of having a film starring his wife Catherine Hessling would end. Thus causing problems within his marriage.
The film was not a box office success, as he would gain the reputation of creating good films, but films that don’t do well in the box office. While Renoir was later told by a friend that a filmmaker must have failures, and those who have failures receive sympathy from audiences.
“La chienne” would also bring even more heartbreak as lead actress Janie Mareze would be killed in an accident with co-star and boyfriend, Georges Flamant, shortly after the making of the film.
If anything, the film made him humble but also made him serious of creating films with better scripts. And eventually, several years later, Jean Renoir would create his well-known masterpiece from the mid-to-late ’30s. And eventually creating films in the United States a decade later.
So, many people could see “La chienne” being important in cinema as a brand new start for Jean Renoir as a filmmaker.
As for the film, while I have been spoiled by Fritz Lang’s 1945 darker remake “Scarlet Street”, Lang’s film is definitely film noir, while “La chienne” can be appreciated for Renoir’s artistic vision, Michel Simon and Janie Mareze’s performance.
As Lang’s “Scarlet Street” felt American, tragic and truly film noir, “La chienne” had the feeling of being French from its romanticism, comedy and irony, especially the Renoir’s use of dialogue to its technical use of shooting in darkness, shooting behind windows, its montage. But most of all, an ending that fits perfectly with French cinema and feels right.
I enjoyed this Renoir film a lot because it’s a complete film in so many levels.
Overall, I absolutely enjoyed “La chienne” for its wit, Renoir’s writing and direction, the performance of Simon and Mareze. Without a doubt, “La chienne” is a film that gives us a fantastic glimpse of the auteur that Jean Renoir would one day become.
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