La Chienne (Jean Renoir / France, 1931):

The triangle ("lui, elle, et l'autre") is an old stone, Jean Renoir tosses it into the fountain to make ripples. The camera is inside an ascending dumbwaiter in a little sendup of Der Letzte Mann's famous opening, distant Moulin Rouge lights can be seen from the window at the company dinner and there's the timorous clerk (Michel Simon) at the end of the table, looking like Zola squashed. He skips the party and runs into the masochistic kitty (Janie Marèse), a later shot tilts up from the gutter to reveal the couple embracing on a sloping Montmartre corner. At home there's the battle-axe widow (Magdeleine Bérubet) and stacks of unsigned canvases, the mistress meanwhile only has eyes for the sharpie (Georges Flamant) pimping her out, "he has manners but he's easily led astray." (Roger Gaillard as the long-lost sergeant completes the arrangement, the sham military hero exposed in a domestic coup de théâtre.) Renoir loves his fantoches, they stumble out of stage curtains and onto documentary sidewalks to discover the tragicomedy of interconnection, everybody's strings are tangled. The beauty of wholeness (the protagonist shaves in his makeshift atelier, music is heard, the camera tracks and subtly shifts focus to find a neighboring little girl playing the piano) has its fatal side, too—a different melody bridges the traveling singers in the street and the drama in the apartment on the top floor, where the mocking Lulu now sprawls on a bloodstained bedsheet. (The theme of prostitution links fashionable parlor and underworld dive, a painter's position: "You know what they say about artists...") Sternberg's Der Blaue Engel and Hitchcock's Blackmail are visible in the framework, McCarey has the sloshed homecoming in Ruggles of Red Gap, Pabst dissolves are prevalent. Simon in rags for the ferocious epilogue prepares Boudu, along with the ineffable line between degradation and freedom: Life's a bitch and life's beautiful, and art for Renoir must be more than one thing at once. Cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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