La Chienne (1931)

“Some dreams require solitude.”

Jean Renoir’s first talking film, La Chienne examines the life of mild mannered clerk Maurice Legrand. One evening, while the other men in the office end a work party by carousing and drinking, Legrand must hurry home to meet the curfew set by his domineering wife Adele (Magdeleine Berubet). On the way home, he meets prostitute Lucienne “Lulu” Pelletier (Janie Marese) as her pimp Dede (Georges Falmant) whacks her around. Legrand takes the girl home, and they strike up a relationship. Legrand puts her up in an apartment, pays all the bills, but she still sees Dede on the side.

Legrand’s wife, Adele, seems to enjoy making her husband’s life miserable. Before Lulu appears, his only hobby is painting, and Adele complains continually about his canvases while lauding her late husband’s memory to the skies. Obviously Lulu–who possesses a “vulgarity all her own” represents an escape from Adele’s control, and soon he shifts some of his paintings to Lulu’s flat. While Legrand imagines he’s supporting just a mistress, in reality, he’s supporting both her and her pimp. One day, when the money isn’t enough, Dede grabs one of Legrand’s paintings, and sells it. This sale sets off a chain of events for the characters involved.

La Chienne was remade into the Fritz Lang film noir title, Scarlet Street starring Edward G. Robinson as the meek Legrand, so if you’re into film noir, you’ll no doubt recognize the plot. While La Chienne is a little rough (the film begins with a crude Punch and Judy show to introduce the characters), there’s a great story with universal truths about human nature here. Legrand is the quinessential henpecked husband, but even his flighty mistress provides no true escape. While the relationship with Lulu initially allows Legrand to play a chivalrous role, he’s soon humiliated in brand new ways. Through its main characters, La Chienne examines relationships–what we put up with, what we long for, and what we accept. A short feature A Day in the Country (36 minutes long) is also on the VHS tape from Kino. In French with English subtitles.

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Filed under France, Jean Renoir

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