5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A good introduction to Renoir, but...,
This review is from: Jean Renoir - La Bete Humaine, La Grande Illusion, Le Crime De Monsieur Lange  [DVD] (DVD)...despite boasting decent transfers, the lack of the extras from the R1 NTSC Criterion discs or the French StudioCanal releases lets the set down badly.
La Bete Humaine is my favorite Renoir and one which tends to divide many of his critics and admirers. For me it's an exhilarating and involving piece of cinema with characters destroyed by and destroying themselves in events in much more credible circumstances than in Regle du Jeu, which gives it some real emotional and thematic weight beyond mere parlor games - not to mention having the thrill of seeing post WW1 French doomed romanticism evolving into proto-film noir before your very eyes. These characters truly do all have their reasons and find their attempts to control events and other people backfiring spectacularly as they lose control in a way that none of the mannequins in Regle do. But it's all subjective. Jean Gabin is superb, the use of locations exemplary and Simone Simon was a babe, even if she does try to bite!
La Grande Illusion is one of those films whose reputation as one of the pinnacles of cinematic achievement has always seemed unfathomable to me. If anything, its reputation does the film a great disservice. It IS a good film - a very good film, in fact - but it's not a particularly great one, and it seems to have less to say with each passing year, gradually turning into yet another prisoner of war movie moving from boarding school hijinks to superficial comments on the class system. There are a few excellent scenes in the last third, not least once Von Stroheim re-enters the film, but it feels at times as if there's more French studio system craft than substance. Certainly as an anti-war film it's surprisingly ineffective compared to Pabst or Milestone's earlier efforts.
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange is not exactly a disappointment but certainly a long way from Renoir's best. Prefiguring Ealing comedies and British social dramas like Chance of a Lifetime, it's a mixture of the best and worst of pre-war French cinema. Its socialist message seems a little too contrived at times, and there's something genuinely unpleasant and extremely distasteful about the joy and cheap jokes about the death of an illegitimate child that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, which is a shame because there's a real sense of energy and everyday triumph to the second half of the film.