Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Opening with a puppet show prologue, Jean Renoir’s La Chienne concerns Maurice, a dowdy forty-something cashier trapped in a loveless marriage. At a meal with his work colleagues, he expresses his unhappiness but finds little sympathy. On his way back home, he encounters Lulu, a gamine prostitute tending to her drunken pimp, and is instantly smitten. After escorting her safely to her place, Maurice mistakes Lulu’s affectionate manner for love, and attempts to see her again. Meanwhile, Lulu’s pimp Dédé is angered at the sight of the paintings Maurice has given her but, with true pimp flair, he comes up with a plan to extort money from Maurice by emotional blackmail. Lulu, having never defied Dédé before, complies for a while, but a surprising revelation changes the fortunes of all three.

Renoir’s second sound film (after the pleasantly-named Baby’s Laxative), La Chienne is a daring, contentious work which unapologetically raises questions about morality and love. Though unevenly paced, particularly towards the end, Renoir handles the drama well, fairly depicting the double lives of both Lulu and Maurice. What is interesting about the film is that none of its three characters are particularly endearing – even Lulu makes a weak protagonist, given her impressionability – but it is still a compelling story. Michel Simon, the dutiful Jules in Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, is brilliant here as Maurice, competently portraying the romantic desperations of a middle-aged man. The photography is also wonderful but subtle – look out for the dinner party scene shot from a dumbwaiter.

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