Le Chienne (The Bitch), Blu-ray (1931-2016)

by | Dec 16, 2016 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

One of the first sound films of Jean Renoir and a realistic analysis of life of Montmartre as well as Renior’s push for naturalistic on-site audio.

Le Chienne (The Bitch), Blu-ray (1931-2016)

Cast: Michael Simon, Georges Flamant, Janie Marese
Director: Jean Renoir
Studio:  Janus/Les Films du Jeudei/The Criterion Collection 818 (6/14/16)
Video: 1.19:1 for 16:9 screens with large side dark areas, B&W
Audio: French PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: 1961 introduction to the film from Renoir; Renoir short of 1936: Une partie de campagne; complete film of On purge bebe also of 1931, Renoir’s first sound film; New interview with Renoir scholar Christopher Faulkner; 1967 French TV chat between Renoir and actor Michael Simon, dir. by Jacques Rivette (95 min.); Poster artwork and essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau
Length: 96 min.
Rating: ****

The long conversation between Renoir and actor Michael Simon, who had not seen one another for a decade, is an absolute kick. They discuss everything under the sun, and Renoir’s interest in nature, the environment and fighting cruelty to animals comes out, especially in his recommending Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to Simon. His first 1931 sound film is only 60 min. long, and mainly concerns a man and his wife getting their young son to take his laxative, and supposedly unbreakable chamber pots he represents being entirely breakable. This illustrates Renoir’s path-breaking use of actual live sound in films rather than dubbing it in later artificially. His favorites are the breaking chamber pots and the toilet flushing sounds (with the door closed).

The rather simple love triangle story of the Le Chienne is summarized in the title of the printed included essay, He, She and The Other Guy. The profound humanity of Renoir comes thru in the story of the unhappily-married cashier and amateur painter, who falls in love with the prostitute, failing to see that both she and her pimp younger boyfriend are taking advantage of him. Renoir loves to frame scenes in a doorway or window, and his story provides a stinging commentary on class and sexual divisions. The fact that the paintings of Legrand, some of which he gives to the prostitute, are then sold for high prices by the gallery to which her pimp sells them, is just part of a negative portrayal of the art world, which Renoir had all his life as result of his famous father the painter.

It all takes place in Montmartre, a place of both entertainment and skulduggary. Music and song is a major part of the film. In fact, the end has a street guitarist and violinist performing for a crowd while a murder goes on in the building behind them. It ends with Legrand, now a bum, running into the first husband of his former wife, now also a bum; and as friends they go off together.

—John Sunier


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