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La Bete Humaine

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					 “La Bete Humaine” (1938). This classic black and white French film, a bleak drama on
the grand scale, was directed by the legendary Jean Renoir (NANA, MADAME
BOVARY, THE GRAND ILLUSION, LA MARSEILLAISE), son of the world-famous,
greatly loved painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, and was based on the lastingly popular novel
of the same name, by admired French author Emile Zola. It is set in the 1870’s, and
centers on a love triangle among French railway workers. The magnetic Jean Gabin stars
as Jacques Lantier, a train engineer who has seen Roubaux, (played by Fernand Ledoux
of the Comedie Francaise), force his beautiful, childlike wife Severine Roubaux (Simone
Simon) to help him murder her lover. But Lantier is keeping quiet about it, because he
wants Severine for himself. Ultimately Lantier and Severine do become lovers and she
starts nagging him to kill her murderous husband.

Renoir delivers some of the most beautifully photographed pictures of trains and train
tracks, and rural France, ever seen, making striking, poetic, thematic use of the railroad.
He paints the self-sufficient railroad community in memorable color for a black and
white film. He draws from the very beautiful Simon a performance that helped define the
femme fatale forever more, as well as defining forever more a woman who really loves
her cat. Gabin is never less than hypnotic as the tragic Lantier, who, apparently, has
inherited some sort of family mental illness, possibly, as we know now, a chemical
dysfunction of the brain, and is subject to uncontrollable violent outbursts. Lantier’s
inherited illness is truly the heart of the film. Personally, although all this is mentioned in
a little preface to the film, I’m still not entirely sure what that’s supposed to be about,
except that it is apparently the heart of the Zola book, with which I am not familiar.
Nevertheless, although this film is less famous than some of Renoir’s others, it is
certainly worth seeing for Renoir’s direction, and Gabin’s muscular performance.

				
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posted:7/24/2010
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