LOWER DEPTHS (1936) by Jeam Renoir
Lower Depths is an intricate story of poverty and those who fall into the deepest of socioeconomic despair based on the writer Maxim Gorky's play with the same name. The story takes place in the outskirts of Paris in a poorhouse where Pépel (Jean Gabin), a thief, is planning a raiding. Pépel is having an affair, which he tries to break off, with Vassilissa (Suzy Prim), the proprietor's wife, as he has come to realize that he loves Natacha (Junie Astor), Vassilissa's sister. This provides much intrigue as Vassilissa wants her husband dead because she wants to leave the poorhouse.
Gambling has driven the Baron (Louis Jouvet) to poverty and he has lost his administrative position at the ministry due to theft to cover for his gambling debts. When the Baron arrives home suicidal from one last disastrous gamble he searches for his gun in desperation. Instead the Baron discovers that he has a guest, Pépel, with whom the Baron builds a friendship as they spend the night chatting and playing cards. During the night Pépel finds out that creditors are about to repossess the Baron's mansion and the Baron is only a night away from same living conditions as Pépel.
The majority of the story takes place at the poorhouse where a number of interesting characters provide much insight into how people end up in the lower depths of society. Renoir's adaptation of the Lower Depths was thoroughly appreciated by Gorky as Renoir concentrated on how people shift social class either up or down. This focus is enhanced by the cast with the exception of Junie Astor whose face remains as motionless as a dusty bust when she is in focus of the camera. Renoir's Lower Depths offers a terrific cinematic experience that leaves the audience with notions of social injustice and blissful love.
LOWER DEPTHS (1957) by Akira Kurosawa
When Akira Kurosawa decided to adapt Gorky's Lower Depths to the silver screen he had already seen Jean Renoir's version of the film. Renoir was a film director whose cinematic genius Kurosawa genuinely admired as he later wrote in regards to Renoir, "...I would like to grow old in the same way he did." Kurosawa's direction of Lower Depth has the same intricate story of poverty and those who have fallen into the deepest of socioeconomic despair as Renoir's adaptation. However, unlike Renoir, Kurosawa grabs the cinematic moment in the initial scene where he pans the camera 360 degrees from within a massive hole displaying the upper edge of the abyss. This leaves a visual imprint in the mind which haunts the audience with the dread of falling into the abyss, which Renoir did not accomplish in his film as it had a different motive to tell the story.
The story takes place in a poorhouse that lays in the bottom of the large hole, which is confused by people of high social status as a garbage dump. In the poorhouse there are a number of different characters such as Sutekichi the thief (Toshirô Mifune), Osugi the landlady, Okayo Osugi's sister, Rokubei Osugi's older husband, a former samurai, a prostitute, a craftsman, an actor, a priest, and a gambler among others. They complain about their struggles, get drunk, sing, gamble, and share their hopes as they share a roof together. Through their daily activities the character's different persona's emerge as they tell stories of their past, or dreams that they have to be above the pit in which they now live.
Kurosawa's Lower Depths never leaves the pit in which the poorhouse exists as it instills an enhanced feeling of hopelessness, which lends support to the empathy that the audience builds for the desperation that the characters must feel. This desperate atmosphere is well-balanced by the priest that arrives to the poorhouse as he offers hope for those in need of it. The function of desperation and hope becomes a double edge sword that could inflict harm to those who use the two without care. Through Kurosawa's cinematic brilliance, desperation and hope are visualized and leave the audience with an excellent cinematic experience, which stimulates reflection in regards to the theme.
does a wonderful job putting both of these cinematic geniuses in the same dvd case as both films are excellent in their own way. In addition, Criterion submits both with interesting extras that will enlighten the audience of both adaptations of Gorky's play. This in an essential piece of cinema that is a must for anyone who loves cinema.