A weird sort of (anti-)war film in that the opposing sides (mostly French vs. German) are extremely nice to each other. The great Jean Gabin (between The Lower Depths and La Bete Humaine) is pilot Marechal, flying the right proper monocle-wearing Captain Boldieu (Pierre Fresnay, star of Le Corbeau and Duvivier’s Phantom Carriage remake) when they’re shot down by the right proper monocle-wearing Erich von Stroheim – who shakes their hands and invites them to dinner.

The next section is the source of many comic/dramatic prison camp films, but without the grit and terror of many of them (although Gabin is painfully placed in solitary confinement after provoking a celebration over Germany losing a battle), since WWII forever changed the face of prison camps. The men are stationed with a series of characters digging an escape tunnel beneath their barracks, including three major Rules of the Game actors: The Engineer (jealous husband Gaston Modot), The Actor (Julien Carette, Gaston’s poacher nemesis) and Rosenthal (Marcel Dallo, the marquis), along with Jean Daste (a brush-mustached vegetarian).

That’s Daste at upper-right, and his L’Age d’Or-starring engineer companion over his shoulder:

Before they can use the tunnel, our initial two Frenchman plus Rosenthal (a rich jew who receives lavish care packages from home) are transferred to a new camp – one run by a stiffly strict Stroheim (is there any other kind of Stroheim?), now in a back/neck brace from an injury. They immediately set about planning their escape again. Boldieu causes a distraction while the other two climb down a handmade rope. Stroheim is extremely depressed to have to shoot down Boldieu, a man he considered too respectful to break the prison rules.

Gabin and Dallo on the run:

Finally, a section that proved unexpectedly resonant with Essential Killing – a prisoner on the run encounters a woman living alone (the lead actress of the film, not appearing until the last fifteen minutes) who brings him in and cares for him. Rosenthal has a leg injury, but overall the guys are in better shape than Vincent Gallo was, and Gabin falls for the lovely Dita Parlo (Renoir was always casting actors from L’Atalante), a German civilian with a young son, whose husband and brothers have all died in the war. The men walk off through Switzerland, Gabin hoping to return. But Renoir obviously doesn’t believe he will.

P. Cowie on the audio commentary:

“War is a great illusion,” said Renoir on another occasion, “with its hopes unfulfilled, its promises never kept.” Of course the interesting thing is that [Marechal and Rosenthal] say farewell to each other with no plans to meet, whereas in the original scenario, Bazin claims that the two fugitives had arranged a rendezvous at Maxime’s in Paris for the first Christmas Eve after the war, and the last shot would show “December 24, 1918,” and their table, reserved but empty in the midst of the busy restaurant, as though even their friendship had been an illusion. . . . Many years later, when Renoir was asked about war films and their effectiveness, he replied soberly, “In 1936 I made a picture named Grand Illusion in which I tried to express all my deep feelings for the cause of peace. This film was very successful. Three years later, the war broke out.”

A story of hot-blooded foreigners who come to France to work, getting in torrid love affairs then killing each other. Renoir beginning on a rare burst of pessimism that would lead to La Bete Humaine.

Toni (Charles Blavett of Stormy Waters and Manon of the Spring) is sleeping with his landlady Marie (Jenny Helia of La Bete Humaine), but has the hots for Josefa. She seems to like him too, but ends up sleeping with Albert, a supervisor at the quarry where Toni works.

Toni and Marie:

Toni and Josefa:

Two years later, Josefa has a kid, her husband Albert is cheating, and Toni still lives noncommittally with Marie. Josefa’s uncle Sebastian, a friend of Toni’s dies, and after Toni gets in a fight with Marie over whether he’s attending the funeral, she tries to drown herself.

Josefa can’t deal with her husband anymore, so plots to escape with her cousin Gabi (“Andrex” of Hotel du Nord), with whom she’s been cheating for years. But the escape goes wrong – Josefa kills Albert, Gabi flees on his own and Toni takes the fall, gets shot down as a train full of new immigrants arrives to take his place.

Eureka provides context:

Based on a police dossier concerning a provincial crime of passion, it was lensed by Claude Renoir on location (unusually for the time) in the small town of Les Martigues where the actual events occurred. The use of directly-recorded sound, authentic patois, lack of make-up, a large ensemble cast of local citizens in supporting roles, and Renoir’s steadfast desire to avoid melodrama lead to Toni often being labeled “the first ‘neorealist’ film”. Renoir himself disagreed. Although Toni is acknowledged as a masterly forerunner of neo-realist preoccupations and techniques he wrote: “I do not think that is quite correct. The Italian films are magnificent dramatic productions, whereas in Toni I was at pains to avoid the dramatic.”

M. Campi:

Renoir continues his investigations of depth of field and the moving camera and makes painterly use of the natural landscapes to counterpoint the drama. He delights in establishing landscapes from foreground to the distance with his characters weaving through diagonally. The organization of the movement within the frame is breathtaking but never straining for effect or obvious. Like nature itself, these elements flow effortlessly, belying the care and attention that has inspired them.

T. Milne:

Toni is not a shapeless mass of observed reality – in fact it is as strictly formalised as any Renoir film. It has a circular construction – the arrival of a batch of immigrants is repeated at the end. This suggests that the events we have just witnessed, though shattering to the lives immediately touched by them, have left no lasting mark on the social milieu. … The fundamental structuring element is the way Renoir contrives to impose the slow serene rhythm of Provence on each scene, so that the urgency of passion or despair – Josefa and Toni laboriously pushing a handcart down a leafy lane while, she tries to make him act upon his love for her, Marie drifting across the lake to stage her suicide – is absorbed by the tranquil, passive landscape.

Michel Simon (returning from Le Chienne) is Boudu, a crazily bearded homeless guy who grows despondent over the disappearance of his dog and jumps into the river. Hundreds gather to gawk, but one man, a bookseller who was watching Boudu before he jumped, leaps in to save him. The bookseller (Charles Granval of some Duvivier films) is congratulated and given awards for taking the poor man in, so he can’t throw him back out, even though Boudu is wrecking his house and interfering in the bookseller’s affair with his housekeeper Anne Marie. Finally Boudu wins the lottery (!), and so marries lovely Anne Marie, but just after the wedding, floating down the river with the whole family, Boudu topples their canoe and floats away, happily returning to his hobo life.

Simon at his most Charles Laughtonesque:

I can’t figure out if it’s an attack on bourgeois society, or simply an attack on everything. It opens with a couple of telling scenes. Boudu loses his dog, asks the police for help and they tell him to fuck off. A rich woman loses her dog a few minutes later and everyone in the park takes up searching for it. Then a fancy man drives up and Boudu opens the door for him. The man searches all his pockets for cash to give in return, until finally Boudu is tired of waiting and gives the guy five bucks. It’s a very fun comedy, much lighter than La Chienne and with an exuberant performance by Simon. Richard Brody calls Boudu a “walking principle of anarchy, insolence, and truth,” who “punctures the pretenses of decent society with the riotousness of a fifth Marx brother.”

There’s a scene with Jean Daste as a student visiting the book store, and immediately afterwards, a shot of barges on the river. I figured Daste + Michel Simon + barges = a L’Atalante reference, not realizing that this movie was released two years earlier.

Jean Daste with Charles Granval:

Renoir: “The success surpassed all hopes. The public reacted with a blend of laughter and fury.”

Based on a play, which was remade for television in the 70’s, again in the 80’s with Nick Nolte then in 2005 with Gerard Depardieu.

It could be fun to think of this movie as a sequel, since Michel Simon ended Le Chienne as a cheerful hobo, his former life and marriage in tatters. But the accountant of Le Chienne was too mild to turn into a Boudu. Also, his beard wasn’t nearly awesome enough.

C. Faulkner

This is the period of the Depression in France, which accounts for the indifferent remark by a working-class character on the bridge that, of late, people have been throwing themselves into the Seine with regularity.

There is a sense that Boudu exteriorizes something that is in Lestingois himself, that the bookseller has summoned him up from the dark reaches of the personal and social unconscious. Boudu is everything at the center of the self and within society that has been discarded, ignored, or repressed. This “boudu” belongs to filth, to waste, to the unassimilable; he is an instinct, an urge, a drive. (What kind of name is Boudu? Does it connote a substance? An action? A disposition?) This “boudu” is something “savage” (so says Madame Lestingois), summoned involuntarily, that both attracts and repels, in equal measure, and over which Lestingois has no control, as the balance of the film proves.

Assistant director Jacques Becker plays a ranting poet in the park:

Opens with a great mix of music mixed with machine sound effects and wildly stylish titles, but it gets quieter and more (Re)noirish from there.

Guy’s car is stolen, replaced with another. He blames his Danish neighbors. Cop checks out the Danes’ garage, finds the guy’s car with a dead jeweler named Goldberg inside. The Dane seems innocent of the crime, but suspicious on another level. He wears a villainous-looking black-eyepatch monocle and has a slinky young sister Else with a pet turtle, who claims she asks to be locked into her room when her brother is away, but the inspector finds a key hidden in there. If one goes looking for Renoir connections, the inspector walking around the Danes’ living room playing with all their little machinery is reminiscent of the Rules of the Game. On the other hand, this movie features a car chase shootout, something I never thought I’d see in a Renoir film.

Turns out the crossroads (a garage, a butcher shop, the Danes’ house, couple other buildings) is a den of corruption. Else is actually wife to her so-called brother, and ex-wife of the killer, who’s in league with Oscar the mechanic and insurance man Michonnet – so pretty much everyone we meet is involved. Gangsters arrive, just blasting away at the garage where the inspector has been cracking the case, which leads to the aforementioned car chase.

A nice twisty and foggy detective story. The first adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel. There would be over a hundred more, including Magnet of Doom, Red Lights and The Man From London. Starring nobody who would seem very famous, besides Renoir’s older brother Pierre (later in La Marseillaise) in the lead role. His assistant Lucas was George Terof of Whirlpool of Fate.

D. Cairns:

Renoir’s [camera] does move with a … sense of narrative emphasis, but what he chooses to emphasize in this story often seems quite eccentric. And by his staccato editing, directly zapping from scene to scene, sometimes interrupting scenes with glimpses of mysterious activities elsewhere, he also seems very modern. … The film has in common with Vampyr a feeling that much of the action is taking place elsewhere, while we’re not around.

“I tried to give you the feeling of mud sticking to your feet, and of fog obscuring your sight.” —Renoir

Based on the same novel and play as Lang’s superb Scarlet Street. Middle-aged man “rescues” sexy girl on the street, sets her up in an apartment as his mistress, starts stealing from his workplace in order to pay her, as she funnels all her money to her boyfriend/pimp, who gambles it away then starts selling the Middle-Aged Man’s paintings for extra cash. The Man is despised by his wife, who still worships her deceased first husband – who later turns out to be alive, showing up in search of money. Man sees his chance, reveals the dead husband, nullifying his own marriage, also kills the girl (for which her boyfriend is blamed, and executed), ends up a bum on the street in front of the art gallery that is reselling his paintings for record amounts.

In the Lang film, architecture in the frame is as important as the performers, and Edward G. Robinson is a sap, destroyed by cruel, cruel fate in a cold, cold world. In this version, everything takes a back seat to the performances, and despite his misfortune, the man leaves the movie laughing, going for a drink with his wife’s first husband, now also homeless and destitute. Renoir has always infused his films with a life-affirming energy, so it’s weird that he took on such negative stories as this one, The Lower Depths and The Little Match Girl, only to defy their negative tones with his benevolent humanity.

Simon and his scowling wife, watched over by her (ex?)-husband:

Characters speak more frankly about sex than anyone would in a movie for the next forty years. Camera movement is somewhat rough, which makes sense for a 1931 sound film. It tries, though – when the girl and her boyfriend dance at a party, the camera dances with them. You can see the Moulin Rouge windmill (see also: French Cancan) out the window of the girl’s apartment. But the Moulin Rouge sighting is nothing compared to the connection to Renoir’s final feature, Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir, which features a second husband treated coldly by his wife, always confronted with the gaze of his predecessor from a picture frame. That film also opens and closes, as does this one, with puppet-show curtains, Renoir telling us that life is theater.

Flamant and Marèse, looking briefly like they’re in a musical:

Michel Simon stars – is this only the second movie I’ve seen of his after L’Atalante? After that one, I never assumed he could play meek and sober, but he does a great job, and looks like Trotsky. Upcoming starlet Janie Marèse died in a car accident on the way to the film’s premiere. Georges Flamant survived the same crash – his final film was The 400 Blows. Roger Gaillard, the resurrected first husband, returned in Night at the Crossroads as a butcher.

Ruined, but not down:

A very late entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

Le final film de Jean Renoir, made for television when the director was in his mid-70’s, eight years after his last theatrical picture The Elusive Corporal. Some tinges of bitterness, of sadness and despair, but as always Jean is finally generous and life-affirming, closing with a whole town roaring laughter, making me laugh in response.

But first, Renoir minimizes expectations. Away from the monumental cinema screen (which he often conflated with a theatrical stage), now working for television, he envisions a diminished stage, a tiny theater, and so presents short stories instead of one long work.

A rich loudmouth (Roland Bertin of The Model Couple, The Hairdresser’s Husband), in a move imitated by Lars Von Trier for The Five Obstructions, pays a homeless guy to watch his friends’ Christmas feast through the restaurant window. Some of his guests are bummed, so they flit off elsewhere, leaving this guy outside making restaurant patrons nervous until the maitre d’ pays him in food and wine to buzz off. The bum (Nino Formicola) brings the food to his girlfriend (singer Milly, in The Conformist the same year) under a bridge – they celebrate the holiday talking together (but not eating) then lie down and freeze to death with happy smiles on their face. A weird holiday fable, and a circular one for Renoir, who’d filmed The Little Match Girl (with much window gazing and freezing to death) over forty years prior.

Gaze from outside:

Gaze from inside:

As with the concept of the “petit theater” itself, the next episode can be seen as a cranky old-timer’s refusal to accept modern technology, but in both cases he suffuses his premise with humor, downplaying the crankiness in favor of amusement. It’s the most comedic and musical of the pieces, featuring a Greek choir of townsfolk, a painting that changes expression, and cartoonishly fun acting.

Marguerite Cassan (my favorite actor of the same year’s La Rupture – mother of the husband-gone-mad) wants only an electric floor buffer, and bullies her husband about it until the next-door neighbor, an electric floor buffer sales rep, overhears and comes over to demo the product. Unfortunately, Cassan’s poor husband (Pierre Olaf of Camelot) slips on the ultra-smooth floor and dies. She remarries a man with a stronger will (Jacques Dynam, who played buffoon inspector Juve’s second-in-command in the 1964 Fantomas) who insists she not run the machine while he’s home. She disobeys and he hurls it out the window, so she hurls herself out the window. That’s two Renoir stories in a row that end in demise.

M. Cassan giving the silent treatment to first husband:

M. Cassan giving the silent treatment to second husband:

Part Three is a musical interlude featuring Jeanne Moreau (the same year she was/wasn’t in Orson Welles’s The Deep) singing “When Love Dies.” Incredibly, the producers of the VHS copy I watched decided not to subtitle the song.

The final segment was my favorite. Duvallier (Fernand Sardou), a well-loved retired captain, resides happily in his big house with his young wife (Francoise Arnoul, lead girl in French Cancan) and a lovestruck maid (the rarely seen Dominique Labourier, a few years before starring in Celine and Julie Go Boating), spending his days in town playing bowls (a similar game to bocce). All is bliss until the wife is discovered to be sleeping with a friend of his, then it’s tears all around. Duvallier ponders the situation, asking townsfolk for advice, while the friend first decides to leave town (him: “He loves you”, Mrs. Duvallier: “Yes, but only when I’m happy. When I’m unhappy I upset him, and if you leave I’ll be unhappy.”) then proposes a duel. But Duvallier decides it’s best for everyone to stay happy, to live as they have been, and so the trio goes into town for a game of bowls. It’s the most cheerful movie about infidelity that I’ve ever seen.

Final bow:

The Wrong Trousers (1993, Nick Park)
Endlessly amusing, and full of curious references to unknown kinds of cheese. The baddie is a jailbroken diamond-snatching chicken with a rubber-glove rooster hat and some electrical skills. Some serious dejected Gromit sadness when the tenant chicken takes his place and he leaves home… why must funny cartoons also make me sad?


Dizzy Dishes (1930, Dave Fleischer)
A Bluto-type orders roast duck, but our blandly Bosko-like hero dances around the kitchen instead of preparing the meal professionally. He makes a half-hearted attempt to serve the duck (shaved – not roasted) when he’s distracted yet again by a dog-eared proto-Betty Boop, leaving Bluto so hungry that he eats the dishes and table (see also: Jan Svankmajer’s Food). Finally Bosko, a true villain, assaults the poor customer and leaves with the dancing girl.


Direction of an Actor by Jean Renoir (1968, Gisele Braunberger)
What to do when your father is a famed film producer? Hire Jean Renoir to give you acting lessons. Gisele is told to read lines to Renoir completely flat with no hint of affectation, and he stops her many times if he detects even a hint of predetermined acting style, saying that first she must read the lines bringing nothing to the table, and then the character’s voice will come from the lines. Sounds like good advice. I watched this short doc thinking it was connected to the ones Rivette made with similar titles, but I guess not. Shot by Edmond Richard (Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise, Welles’ The Trial) – can’t see how exactly it counts as a film by Giselle, but I guess it was her idea.


The next four are from Revolución (2010), a Mexican omnibus film that I didn’t finish watching when it was briefly available online.

La Bienvenida (Fernando Eimbcke)
Armancio the tuba player sacrifices all his family time practicing for the big welcome song, then the guest of honor never shows. All the other orchestra members go home but the tuba stays and plays his rehearsed part solo for nobody. Non-moving camera, low lighting, black and white. It must be a comedy, since tubas indicate comedy, but why am I not laughing? True, the final shot was nice.


Beautiful and Beloved (Patricia Riggen)
A dying man’s wish to his U.S.-born daughter is that he be buried in Mexico, where she’s never been. There’s talk of selling her grandfather’s pistol from the Mexican Revolution for funeral expenses, but instead she gets a deal by sleeping with some sleazy guy, which I believe is seen as a victory for the revolution.


Lucio (Gael Garcia Bernal)
Lucio’s weird cousin comes to visit, refuses to participate in religious rituals and removes the christ-on-a-cross from the bedroom wall saying he doesn’t believe in images. Lucio has some sort of epiphany from all this, as seen by his running to the top of a mountain and gazing at the horizon.


The Hanging Priest (Amat Escakanate)
A couple of kids (who say they’re engaged to be married even though they’re ten – is that a Mexican thing?) come across a priest in the desert. They share their water, walk for a while, and end up at a McDonald’s.

I remember an early scene in which Elena (Ingrid Bergman) is trying to see the parade honoring Jean Marais, then a mutual friend takes her to meet him, and he seems to like her. Doesn’t she give him a special flower that she says will bring luck? Other things must happen after that.

Methuselah (1927, Jean Painlevé)
The title character is a dog-masked shoe-obsessed megalomaniac. Painlevé himself plays Hamlet, and surrealist poet Antonin Artaud found time to appear in this between Abel Gance’s Napoleon and The Passion of Joan of Arc. Doesn’t really make sense on its own – five filmed episodes that were projected during a stage play, strung together here with a stereotypical silent-film piano score.

The Vampire (1945, Jean Painlevé)
Portrait of the South American vampire bat set to happy jazz. They put a bat and a guinea pig in a cage and let the one eat the other. Don’t think I’ll be showing this one to Katy.

Bluebeard (1938, Jean Painlevé)
An opera version of Bluebeard, comically told with awesome and elaborate claymation.

The High Sign (1921, Keaton & Cline)
Buster steals a cop’s gun, runs a shooting gallery, becomes a rich guy’s bodyguard and becomes the same guy’s hired killer. Gags involving ropes and dogs and a house full of traps – one of BK’s funniest and most complicated shorts. So many film scraches I thought it was supposed to be raining. Features Al St. John (the clown who would one day be known as Fuzzy Q. Jones in a hundred westerns) and the gigantic Joe Roberts.
image

One Week (1920, Keaton & Cline)
Opens with the same calendar we just saw in The High Sign and Buster getting married… nice transition from the last movie except that it’s a different girl. The one in which he builds a house. More acrobatic stunts than the previous movie – the two make a good pairing. Ooh, a meta camera gag and some near-nudity. I think more work went into this than all of Go West.
image

A Wild Roomer (1927, Charley Bowers)
Charley (who not-so-subtly calls himself an “unknown genius” in the intertitles) makes a God Machine which creates self-aware puppets.
image

Actually I’m not sure what that was about, besides being an extended stop-motion demonstration – the machine is supposed to take care of all your household chores. As with both of the other Bowers films I’ve watched recently, he has unquestionably made an excellent machine, so the conflict comes from the complications from having to show it off to others (in this case a cranky saboteur uncle with an inheritance at stake).
image

Zooming in further one finds… a baby exterminator??
image

Fatal Footsteps (1926, Charley Bowers)
“If there were a tax on idiots, Tom would send his dad to the poorhouse.” Well that makes up for the “unknown genius” line. Charley is trying to learn the Charleston to win a contest in the very house where the Anti-Dancing League (motto: “mind thy neighbor’s business”) is meeting. Just when I thought it was gonna be that simple, he invents some mechanical dancing shoes – stop-motion ensues. The shoes get mistakenly worn by Charley’s relative who offends his fellow Leaguers, then Charley wins (and escapes) the contest.
image

Even fish are learning the Charleston:
image

Haunted Spooks (1920, Hal Roach/Alfred Goulding)
The girl is first introduced kissing baby birds, so she’s got my sympathy.
image

Her grandfather dies – she gets the house and inheritance if she lives in it for a year with her husband – but she has no husband! I thought I’d be in for 25 minutes of haunted-house hijinks, but the husband problem has to be solved first (Harold Lloyd is rejected by his rich dream girl, picked up by our girl’s lawyer while attempting to commit suicide) so we don’t get to the house until minute 17. After introducing some superstitious-negro stereotypes, the girl’s crooked uncle proceeds to “haunt” the house to drive her away and steal the inheritance.
image

image

Cute movie, but what I liked best were the illustrated intertitles.
image

Chess Fever (1925, Vsevolod Pudovkin)
Fever has gripped the whole town. Chess breaks up a relationship, drives two people to attempted suicide, then happily reunites them. I guess from important-sounding Pudovkin, with his grim-looking video covers, I wasn’t expecting a comedy, but this was light (despite all the suicide) and wonderful. Wikipedia says it includes documentary footage of the 1925 Moscow chess tournament.
image

Charleston (1927, Jean Renoir)
A scientist from central Africa (a white guy in blackface and a tuxedo) flies in his aircraft (a marble on a string) to post-apocalyptic Paris, runs into a sexy Euro-girl and her pet monkey. The girl (Catherine Hessling, Renoir’s wife) teaches him the Charleston, filmed in cool slow-motion. Maybe this wasn’t as surreal in ’27 as it is today. The first (credited on IMDB anyway) film produced by Pierre Braunberger, who would go from Renoir to Resnais/Rivete/Rouch to Truffaut/Godard to Shuji Terayama.
image

The Little Match Girl (1928, Jean Renoir)
New year’s eve, a poor girl (Catherine Hessling again) can’t sell any matches, starves/freezes to death on the street after hallucinating a better life. The first Renoir film I’ve seen with stop-motion (there’s only a tiny bit) but not the first to focus on clockwork machines. Also reverse and slow-motion and a horse race through the clouds – much more ambitious than Charleston. In her fantasy she plays at the toy store, shrunk to toy size herself, and meets a handsome soldier who looks suspiciously like the handsome cop who was nice to her in the snowy street. It’s all fun and games until Death comes and wrestles her from the soldier. Both these shorts were shot by Jean Bachelet, who would be cinematographer on three separate films of The Sad Sack including Renoir’s.
image