Movie Review: La Bete Humaine

images-6Dennis suggests La Bete Humaine (in the Criterion Collection). Sometimes actors get saddled with a cliché by fans and movie reviewers, and I think most of them get pretty cheesed off; I mean, how many times did Gary Cooper have to hear himself called ‘taciturn’, or Jimmy Cagney ‘pugnacious’, or Mel Gibson ‘insane and racist’ before it got old? And, speaking of cheese, Jean Gabin must have heaved a sigh and muttered a silent ‘merde’ every time he was described as ‘world-weary’ but, you gotta admit, the guy was good at that ol’ existential ennui. In French classics (all available at Videoport, natch’) like Grand Illusion, Port of Shadows, Touchez pas au Grisibi, and 1938s La Bete Humaine Gabin exemplified the sense that the world was just a big, malicious, capricious creep. His sad toughguy eyes, saddled with their bags, his gruff voice seeming always to know the bad end his characters always were inevitably coming to, Gabin was France’s most beloved matinee idol, and his, yeah, world-weariness was earned as his film career bridged his country’s tumultuous history. In La Bete Humaine, (from the Emil Zola novel), Gabin is a, um, ‘earth-tired’?, train engineer who accidentally witnesses a murder and finds himself drawn into a plot by the murderers kittenish wife (Simone Simon) to, well, I’ll let you see for yourself. An early film noir, the film sets up the genres archetypes beautifully, with Gabin’s innocent-and-yet-not hero succumbing to circumstance, fate, and, of course a femme fatale; and Simon is just designed to make an everyman succumb, with her quintessentially French blend of earthiness and vacancy. Directed with a sure touch (watch the opening and closing train sequences to see how a master builds excitement) by Jean Renoir. It’s a ‘planet-sleepy’? noir classic.

Published in: on June 30, 2009 at 2:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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