Le crime de Monsieur Lange (Renoir, 1936)
Often marked as “one of Renoir’s greatest films,” Le crime de Monsieur Lange is a platform for us to witness how a director can convert propaganda into memorable art. The script is full of wit but Renoir is the hero, here. He allows for multiple perspectives and concise characterization to produce a quick, jaunty, and bright film.
Lange is dense with insightful staging. Renoir had learned by 1936 that everything serves character. In some ways, he recalls the swift attitude in Hawks’s comedies. The camera work is clearly more radical, but they both succeed with abundant charm and aim every device at the service of character. Visually, some usual complexities are reserved for the end where the street allows for at least two excellent tracking shots. Lange presents some of the most precise and concise characterizations in the Renoir repertoire. Batala is given superior attention. If we compare him to the capitalist villain in something like Strike, we find that Renoir believes in the complexity of thought even when working with a simple and economic script. In his frequent manipulation of women, Renoir illuminates the tight bond between money, power, and sex. His metamorphosis into a priest is loaded with dubious criticism, but is still the source of comedy.
The best component of Lange might be the frequent allusions to Americana and westerns. It asserts that the American frontier was imbued with absolute freedom and the characters use it to focus their socialist fantasies. This parallel between socialist idealism and dreams of the West play incredibly well as an object of cinema. Lange even gets its own joke — “It’s only a movie.” The film is dense with the inimitable charm of Renoir, consistently exquisite photography, and forceful characterization. The comedy is presented with ease and subtlety. It is only unfortunate that so much of the commentary is excessively heavy. Capitalism comes back from the dead only to be defeated by Socialism. Socialism gets away with murder and walk happily out into infinity.
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