Written and directed by Jean Renoir, with story credit by Emile Zola and dialogue by Denise Leblond, La Bete Humaine (The Human Beast) is the story of a train engineer who falls for the wife of his superior following a horrifying incident involving murder. During the affair, things become more complicated as the engineer is being asked to do things for his lover. Starring Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, and Fernand Ledoux. La Bete Humaine is a chilling yet intoxicating film from Jean Renoir.
Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin) is a train engineer who loves his job as he works with his friend Pecqueux (Julien Carette) as they take care of their train. When Lantier is given a 36-hour leave so his train can get a few repairs, he goes out to visit his godmother (Charlotte Clasis) and an ex-girlfriend (Blanchette Brunoy) for his leave. Meanwhile, Lantier’s supervisor Rouboud (Fernand Ledoux) wants to go to La Herve with his wife Severine (Simone Simon) whom he suspects is having an affair with her godfather Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz). During a ride to La Herve with Grandmorin, Lantier steps in for a ride as he notices something is happening as the Grandmorin is found dead.
During questioning, Lantier claims that he didn’t see anything though he did see Rouboud and Severine walk by Grandmorin’s compartment. Rouboud is glad that Lantier isn’t saying anything though a judge (Andre Tavernier) believes that a man named Cabuche (Jean Renoir) is the suspect. Still, Rouboud tries to hide things as Severine feels unhappy as she turns to Lantier for comfort as they eventually get into an affair. With Rouboud becoming more unhinged by what’s going on as he’s hiding something, Lantier also starts to feel uncomfortable by his affairs and what Severine wants to do. When he sees Severine with another man in Dauvergne (Gerard Landry), Lantier realizes what is going on as he becomes consumed with guilt.
The film is a study of guilt as it’s all centered around two men and a woman in this world of murder and adultery. Yet, Jean Renoir creates a story where there’s this simple man who loves being a train engineer as he calls his train Lison. Yet, he is also someone that has own issues where he displays some violent tendencies as he discusses it with his mother who is still worried about him. Then there’s Rouboud who is a rich man that operates the train station that Lantier works with who is a proud man but is wondering if his wife loves him as he becomes more secretive and distant following the murder of Grandmorin. Then there’s Severine who is in the middle of this as this innocent, poor woman is really a manipulator that is willing to make men do anything and pushes them to the edge.
The script works as a study of guilt and motivations yet it’s in Renoir’s direction where the film really takes hold. Opening with this amazing, five-minute montage of a train speeding throughout the French countryside. Renoir manages to keep the film pretty straightforward while his compositions are very striking in the way he creates love scenes or some intense, dramatic moments. It’s also more about what he doesn’t show as it’s focused on sounds or using an image to obstruct what is really happening. That is part of Renoir’s genius as a filmmaker while keeping the intensity going during a key moment of the film that involves Lantier’s troubled behavior that leads to climatic moment in the film. Overall, Renoir creates a film that is very engrossing for its study of behaviors and guilt.
Cinematographer Curt Courant does a great job with the black-and-white cinematography from the sunny look of the French countryside to the dark look of the nighttime exterior and interior settings to help enhance the suspenseful tone of the film. Editors Suzanne de Troeye and Marguerite Renoir do an amazing job with the editing as many of the cuts are straightforward with the exception of a few jump-cuts to play with the film’s rhythm, along with its train montages, and the dissolves for some of the transitional moments of the film.
Production designer Eugene Lourie does an excellent job with the set pieces created such as the ballroom that Lantier goes to with friends where he sees Severine dancing with another man as well as the look for the train compartments. Costume designer Laure Lourie does a very good job with the costumes from the black dresses that Severine wears to the working-class suits of Lantier and more revered suits that Rouboud wears. Sound engineer Robert Teisseire does a nice job with the sound to the way trains are sounded to how it plays for some of its suspenseful moments. The music by Joseph Kosma is exhilarating for its sweeping compositions from fast-paced pieces for its suspenseful moments to more slower, mid-tempo pieces for the dramatic moments of the film.
The cast is truly incredible with notable appearances from Colette Regis as Pecqueux’s wife, Blanchette Brunoy as Lantier’s ex-girlfriend, Charlotte Clasis as Lantier’s godmother, Andre Tavernier as a judge, Gerard Landry as a man whom Severine likes, Jacques Berlioz as Grandmorin, and Jean Renoir as dirty man accused of murder. Julien Carette is excellent in a memorable supporting role as Pecqueux, Lantier’s fellow train engineer who becomes suspicious over what is going on. Fernand Ledoux is great as Rouboud, a station supervisor dealing with his wife’s supposed affairs as well as the things he’s done as he becomes more distant as the film progresses.
Simone Simon is radiant as the innocent though melodramatic Severine, a woman who is abused by her husband as she seeks comfort in Lantier only to manipulate him in order to deal with things. It’s a truly eerie performance as Simon brings a complexity to a woman that is really more of a troublemaker than a victim. Jean Gabin is brilliant as Jacques Lantier, a man with simple pleasures whose new role as a lover for a married woman eventually takes its toll as he would explore his own demons. It’s a very compelling performance from the legendary actor as he creates a character that finds himself in a very bad situation based on a lie he creates.
La Bete Humaine is a mesmerizing yet intriguing film from Jean Renoir featuring a phenomenal performance from Jean Gabin. The film is definitely one of Renoir’s finest films due to its study of character and motivations as well as the world he creates at a train station. While Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion might be better introductions, this is still one of his key films proving why he is such a beloved filmmaker all over the world. In the end, La Bete Humaine is a triumphant suspense film from Jean Renoir.
Jean Renoir Films: (Backbiters) - (La Fille de l’eau) - (Charleston Parade) - (Une vie sans joie) - (Marquitta) - (The Sad Sack) - (The Tournament) - (The Little Match Girl) - (Le Bled) - (On purge bebe) - (Isn’t Life a Bitch?) - (Night at the Crossroads) - Boudu Saved from Drowning - (Chotard & Company) - (Madame Bovary (1933 film)) - (Toni) - A Day in the Country - (Life Belongs to Us) - (The Lower Depths (1936 film)) - (The Crime of Monsieur Lange) - Grand Illusion - (La Marseillaise) - Rules of the Game - (Swamp Water) - (This Land is Mine) - (Salute to France) - (The Southerner) - (The Diary of a Chambermaid (1945 film)) - (The Woman on the Beach) - The River - (The Golden Coach) - (French Cancan) - (Elena and Her Men) - (The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment) - (Picnic on the Grass) - (The Elusive Corporal) - (The Little Theater of Jean Renoir)
© thevoid99 2011