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The Lower Depths
(Les Bas-Fonds)

Screening on Film
Directed by Jean Renoir.
With Jean Gabin, Louis Jouvet, Suzy Prim.
France, 1936, 35mm, black & white, 89 min.
French with English subtitles.
Print source: Cinémathèque québécoise

In the heady days of the Popular Front, Renoir agreed to direct an adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s 1902 play about squalor among a group of slum dwellers in Czarist Russia. This ensemble piece, which constantly changes tones in what Bazin calls an “improbable game of hide-and-seek between vaudeville and tragedy, realism and parody,” marked the first collaboration between Renoir and Jean Gabin, the great star who plays the film’s romantic lead. But it is remarkable actor Louis Jouvet who steals the show as a suddenly impoverished aristocrat. The lyricism that the film finds in poverty seems directly inspired by Chaplin and was a major contribution to the poetic realism of French cinema between the wars.

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