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The Human Beast
(La Bête humaine)

Screening on Film
Directed by Jean Renoir.
With Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Fernand Ledoux.
France, 1938, 35mm, black & white, 100 min.
French with English subtitles.
Print source: Institut Français

1938 was a year of foreboding for France. The Popular Front coalition was falling apart as the Spanish Civil War gave galling proof of Hitler’s desire to expand the reach of Nazism. Two major French films released that year testify to the clouds of impending doom: Quai des Brumes,the debut of the writer/director team Prévert and Carné, and Renoir’s La Bête humaine. For this film, the director turned again to Zola, updating to the present and (in the opinion of many) greatly improving upon the 1890 novel. Set in a locomotive yard, the film tells of an engineer seduced by a femme fatale so he will help cover up a murder committed by her husband. The result is part film noir, part poetic realism, part literary adaptation and, upon release, was an enormous success in France.

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