The relationship between film-making and politics in France reached one of its peaks in the mid-1930s. From 1934 to around 1937 the French Communist Party joined forces with the rival Socialists and initially formed a coalition dubbed the Popular Front. Later the Radical Socialists also joined. An organization called Ciné-Liberté was formed to make films and produce a magazine. Jean Renoir was a member of the group and edited a highly polemical newspaper published under Ciné-Liberté’s name in 1936-1937. Richard Abel in his “French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/anthology, 1907-1939, Volume 2” mentions that “Jean Renoir was everywhere. Renoir contributed articles and interviews, for instance to L’Humanité… and to L’Avant-Garde (a weekly published by the French Communist Youth Federation); and from 1937 to 1938, along with Jean Cocteau, he even wrote a chatty weekly column for Ce Soir…”
The above is some background to the filming of M. Lange, one of Renoir’s greatest and most-loved films, made in 1936 against a background of full throttle government reform of workers’ rights and the development of co-operative workplaces.
Lange (René Lefèvre) is the star worker at a small printing plant situated on one side of a tenement courtyard. The business is run by the scheming Batala (Jules Berry). Batala importunes the women in the work place and cheats the workers. Eventually the business debts are such, notwithstanding the success that Lange brings via his tales of the cowboy Arizona Jim, that Batala absconds. The workers stay united and form a co-op to publish Lange’s work and in a matter of time the business is thriving and the courtyard turns into a place of bonhomie and communal joy. It is personified by the transformation of Charles, the concierge’s son who is laid up after an accident on his bicycle, whose window is blocked to the sun by an advertising hoarding. The removal of the hoarding takes on symbolic purpose in the transformation of the workers lives and is celebrated by a remarkable shot which shows the whole courtyard and the quotidian life bustling through it in one deep focus shot-sequence.
But then Batala returns…
Told as one long flashback from the moment Lange arrives at the border with Belgium with his girlfriend Valentine, the film represented a remarkable point in Renoir’s career. He brought in the writer Jacques Prévert, best known as the screenwriter of Marcel Carné’s doom-laden pieces of poetic realism, to create in François Truffaut’s words: Of all Renoir’s films Monsieur Lange is the most spontaneous, the richest in miracle of camerawork, the most full of pure beauty and truth. In short it is a film touched by divine grace.
Notes on the Restoration
Those who attended the first screenings of The Crime of M. Lange in Australia back in the early sixties, when it was part of a Melbourne University Film Society season of Renoir classics, recalled only too well the quality of the 16mm copy on display. It wasn’t any better when it was shown on SBS sometime in the 90s.
The young man who introduced the screening of Jean Renoir’s Le Crime de M. Lange (France, 1936) at Bologna’s Il cinema ritrovato in 2017, on behalf of the now rights holder StudioCanal, said it had been the hardest restoration the company had ever done. The 4K restoration is a remarkable demonstration of the art of film restoration.
Jean Renoir Feature Filmography
Une Vie Sans Joie (1925), La Fille de l’Eau (1925), Nana (1926), Charleston (1927), Marquitta (1927), La Petite Marchande des Allumettes/The Little Match Girl (1928), Le Tournoi (1928), Tire au Flanc (1928), Le Bled (129), Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (1930), La P’tite Lili (1930), Die Jagd Nach Dem Gluck/A la Chasse a la Fortune/Running out of Luck (1930), On Purge Bébé (1931), La Chienne (1931), La Nuit du Carrefour (1932), Boudu Sauvé des Eaux (1932), Chotard et Cie (1932), Madame Bovary (1934), Toni (1935), Le Crime de M. Lange (1936), La Vie Est à Nous (1936), Partie de Campagne (1936), Les Bas-Fonds (1936), La Grande Illusion (1937), La Marseillaise (1938), La Bête Humaine (1938), La Règle du Jeu (1939), La Tosca (1940), Swamp Water (1941), This Land is Mine (1943), The Southerner (1945), Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), The Woman on the Beach (1947), The River (1951), The Golden Coach (1953), French CanCan (1954), Elena and the Men (1956), The Testament of Dr Cordelier (1959), Lunch on the Grass (1959), Le Caporal Epinglé/The Vanishing Corporal (1962), The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir (1969)
DCP supplied by StudioCanal Australia (Greg Denning, Andrew Rolfe, Rosie Braye big thanks).
Notes by Geoff Gardner