A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (Jean Renoir, 1936)

René Lefèvre in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange
Amédée Lange: René Lefèvre
Valentine: Florelle
Batala: Jules Berry
The Concierge: Marcel Lévesque
The Concierge's Wife: Odette Talazac
Meunier's Son: Henri Guisol
Charles: Maurice Baquet
Edith: Sylvia Bataille
Estelle: Nadia Sibirskaia

Director: Jean Renoir
Screenplay: Jean Castanier, Jacques Prévert, Jean Renoir
Cinematography: Jean Bachelet

M. Lange's crime is murder, and he gets away with it. This droll dark comedy is a vehicle for Jean Renoir's anti-fascist politics, and to enjoy it to the fullest you probably have to have been there -- "there" being Europe in 1936. But it still resonates 80-plus years later with its story of a little guy exploited by a venal fat cat. Lange, who writes adventure stories about "Arizona Jim" in the wild West, works for a greedy, corrupt publisher named Batala, who not only stiffs him on a contract to publish the stories, but also inserts advertising plugs into the story itself, making Arizona Jim pause to pop one of the sponsor's pills before launching into action. Batala is also a shameless womanizer who impregnates Estelle, the girlfriend of Charles, the bicycle messenger who works for him. (In a rather cold-hearted twist you probably won't see in movies today, everyone rejoices when the baby dies.) Fleeing from his creditors, Batala reportedly dies in a train wreck, and to salvage their jobs, his employees, encouraged by Meunier, the son of Batala's chief creditor, form a cooperative to run the publishing company. It's a huge success, with Lange's stories becoming incredibly popular -- so much so that a film company wants to buy the rights to make an Arizona Jim movie. Unfortunately, Lange doesn't own the rights, as Batala reveals when he turns up very much alive, disguised as a priest who happened to be standing by him during the crash. When Batala begins demonstrating his old ways, including making a play for all the available women in the company as well as asserting his rights to Arizona Jim and the profits it has made, Lange shoots him, then flees with his girlfriend Valentine. Aided by Meunier, they reach an inn near the border -- which one isn't specified -- where, while Lange rests up, Valentine tells his story and leaves it up to the people at the inn whether they will turn him in. There's some famously show-offy camerawork from cinematographer Jean Bachelet, but the real energy of the film comes from Renoir's company of vivid, talkative characters, whose chatter and whose relationships unfold so rapidly that you may want to see the film twice to appreciate them. Le Crime de Monsieur Lange is second-tier Renoir but, with its genuine affection for human beings, it's better than most directors' top-tier work.

Watched on Filmstruck

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