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Friday, February 12, 2021

La Bete Humaine (1938)

A psychologically disturbed railroad engineer (Jean Gabin) falls in love with the wife (Simone Simon) of an insanely jealous man (Fernand Ledoux). The husband's jealousy has even driven him to murder his wife's ex-lover (Jacques Berlioz), a secret that binds the unhappily married couple together. Loosely based on the 1890 novel by Emile Zola and directed by Jean Renoir (RULES OF THE GAME). While the term film noir normally refers to the Hollywood output of the 1940s and early 1950s, the French were already doing it and this film is an example. While both fascinating and compelling, this sordid drama leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. The film's opening quote suggests Gabin's character's emotional problems and subsequent actions are the result of "bad blood" but that seems psychologically inadequate. Simone Simon's character is ambiguous. Is she a victim (the film insinuates she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse) or is she the Lilith that drives men to their doom? Still, it's superior to the sanitized American remake Fritz Lang did in 1954. With Blanchette Brunoy and Gerard Landry.  

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