14 April 2002 | dbdumonteil
Renoir's wholesale massacre has begun.
With "la chienne",French cinema enters the pathway to genius.During the thirties,it will be one of the best in the world.In those ancient times,it used to walk from strength to strength,encompassing the most phenomenal innovations the seventh art had ever known.Opening and closing his film with a puppet theater,Renoir predates Mankiewicz's "Sleuth" prologue(1972) and countless others by decades.Punch and Judy,what a derision!
Renoir has begun his wholesale massacre;the bourgeois society ,the army ,the justice are his main targets.M.Legrand,whose spouse is a shrew,keeps a mistress,Lulu,(la chienne=the bitch)who doesn't care a little bit about him and who has herself another man in her life ,Dédé.This dandy sponges her off.Legrand and Lulu are actually longing for tenderness,but a society in which money and respectability run rampant leaves them with no chance at all.It's when he rebels against it that Legrand will find his way.His wife-shrew always compares him to his first hubby,a warrant officer killed in action during WW1?Never mind that,when the soldier comes back -he was actually prisoner in Germany-,Legrand gets rid of his missus!Now he thinks he can live with Lulu but he finds her in bed with her lover.Now Legrand will despise the rule of the game(that's Renoir's 1939 movie title).
SPOILERS.SPOILERS.SPOILERS. You've got to follow the pack.Legrand kills Lulu (as the precedent user has pointed it out,the scene is a model of film noir murder:we see nothing of the crime but a knife;the camera stays in the street,focusing on a busker,playing a heartrending tune on her violin,only showing the windows of the house.)When Dédé is accused of the murder,Legrand will not surrender:he used to be a respectable man,and he knows that the society will always be siding with the "moral ",and that it will be happy to condemn a lazy pimp.Renoir allows himself the most immoral ending you can think of,and in 1931,at that!
At the end of the movie,Legrand,who now thoroughly refuses the golden rules,has become a tramp.It's a tramp like this who will rise from the gutter to shake the bourgeois society in "la chienne" follow-up,"Boudu sauvé des eaux"(avoid the remake"down and out in Beverly Hills").It's no coincidence if Michel Simon plays Legrand and Boudu.These two works are Renoir at his most ferocious .