Friday, February 03, 2006


DVD Beaver has some screenshots from Criterion's upcoming release of Jean Renoir's La Bête Humaine.. Based on Emile Zola's novel, it turns Zola's determinism (characters are doomed by genetic and environmental forces they can't control) into something resembling the more mystical fatalism of film noir. With its plot elements of murder, adulterous passion and a femme fatale (Simone Simon), it's one of several '30s French movies that helped provide a blueprint for the type of stories we think of as belonging to film noir, just as German movies provided the template for the visual style of noir.

Incidentally, Renoir wanted Simone Simon to follow up her role in this movie by playing Christine in The Rules of the Game; she wasn't available, and her replacement, Nora Gregor, wasn't really up to the challenges of the part. Though this may actually have helped the movie, because the parts of the other characters were built up to de-emphasize the inexperienced Gregor, giving the film its famous ensemble-cast quality; if Simon had been in the film, she would have clearly been the lead character, and the movie would have developed differently.

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