The illusion of love may survive the sight of a dingy bedroom, but inevitably one awakens.
Jean Renoir’s 1931 film, La Chienne, features Michel Simon as, Legrand, a lowly cashier with a hobby as a painter. Legrand is a man that initially appears introverted and shy. His meek personality is tied to his passionless marriage and lack of freedom in his life. However, everything changes when he meets Lulu and André.
Renoir adapted Georges de La Fouchardière’s novel, La Chienne, for his film by the same name. I have not read Fouchardière’s text, but Renoir’s rendition does it justice. Renoir’s ability to humanize the characters and give them depth, elevates the entire story. Each character struggles to find peace in their life and all seek liberation, and ultimately happiness. Like most people on this planet, the characters are going in and out of periods of financial and emotional stability.
Legrand starts the story off reserved, calculated, and depressed. The introduction of Lulu brings him joy, confidence, and a willingness to do what it takes to maintain it. Once he liberates himself from the desire of companionship, he is able to live unbridled.
Lulu on the other hand knows what she wants from the start, André. She is willing to do what it takes to get him to love her. She begins the story by being willing to play her role of the prostitute. Capturing the heart of Legrand in order to feed the greedy desire of André. By the end, she is willing to sacrifice her role in André’s game in order to set herself free from the lackluster offerings of Legrand.
André’s only goal is to get rich by any means necessary, outside of getting a job. He uses Lulu till the bitter end and doesn’t know what he truly wanted until it is too late. His inability to appreciate Lulu and to abandon his path of greed, ultimately led to his downfall.
Michel Simon is such a great actor. He effortlessly blended the multifaceted Legrand as he evolved down his path to freedom. The stark contrast between opening and ending sequence Legrand is clear. However, Michel is able to gradually work his way from one version to the other in a way that is natural and compelling.
Isn’t Life a Bitch?
An English translation of La Chienne is “isn’t life’s a bitch?”. A perfect way to summarize the ups and downs of the interconnected web of story lines. Story lines that culminate to tragic endings. Life is short and it is wise to make the best of it. Sometimes the path you take to happiness can end up being the path to an early exit.
Directed by: Jean Renoir
Cinematography: Théodore Sparkuhl
Screenplay by: Jean Renoir
Based on the novel “La Chienne” by: Georges de La Fouchardière
Editing By: Paul Fejos & Denise Tual
Starring: Michel Simon, Janie Marèse, Georges Flamant & Magdeleine Bérubet
Runtime: 1h 35m
Genre: Crime, Drama
Distributed by: Gaumont