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La Bête Humaine (Criterion Collection)

Jean Gabin , Julien Carette , Jean Renoir    Unrated   DVD
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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This 1938 adaptation of a rather schematic and melodramatic novel by Émile Zola wasn't a personal project for the writer-director, Jean Renoir, but he made it his own, and it retains the power to shock over 60 years after its original release. This was a star vehicle for working-class hero Jean Gabin that Renoir molded into something pungent and powerful, a story of a curse of brutality that has been handed down in a family from one generation to the next. (The codependent psychology, if not the mood of doomed determinism, may seem more timely than ever.) The working environment of the protagonist, the railroad mechanic Lantier (Gabin), is depicted with great precision; we can just about smell the coal smoke. And the sequences in which Lantier succumbs helplessly to his inherited inclinations are as terrifying as any of the famous murder passages in Hitchcock. For a man with such a high reputation for gentleness and tolerance, the cinema's great humanist was very good at violence: it's worth recalling that almost all of his major and many of his minor films pivot upon vividly imagined brutal crimes. Nothing human was alien to him, not even the pathology of this loathsome "human beast." --David Chute

Product Description

Based on the classic Emile Zola novel, Jean Renoir's La bete humaine was one of the legendary director's greatest popular successes, tapping into the fatalism of a nation in despair. Jean Gabin's emblematic portrayal of doomed train engineer Jacques Lantier granted him a permanent place in the hearts of his countrymen. Part poetic realism, part film noir, the film is a hard-boiled and suspenseful journey into the tormented psyche of a workingman.

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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars La Bête humaine Feb. 11 2009
Format:DVD
Un film d'amour comme on les faisaient dans ces années. Jean Gabin est toujours Jean Gabin (bon acteur)
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great, Tough Film By Jean Renoir Starring Jean Gabin March 20 2006
By C. O. DeRiemer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
For the first seven minutes of La Bete Humaine we're in the open cab of a huge steam engine barreling down the tracks at 60 miles an hour from Le Havre to Paris. The only sounds are the roar of the wind and the wheels on the rails. One crew member is hurling shovels-full of coal into the fire box. The other is checking the gauges, pulling a lever, sticking his head out the side to look ahead. The engineer is dressed in dirty coveralls, a greasy cloth cap on his head, protective goggles pushed up on his forehead. The wind rushes over him. We can't hear a thing because of the noise. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of him framed for a moment against the sky. The engineer is Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin). Controlling that huge engine and driving it at speed is what has given his life any meaning. Some film critics say this was one of the movies the early noir directors in the Forties must have seen. Perhaps, but this film transcends the genre.

Lantier is a taciturn working man, not disliked but lonely. He suffers spells of headaches, fever, of "waves of grief," of violent seizures he blames on the alcoholism of his parents. He wears the sadness of life like a cloak on his shoulders. One night, as a passenger on the train returning to Le Havre, he sees the Le Havre station master, Roubard (Fernand Ledoux), and his wife, Severine (Simone Simon), on board. Roubard, jealous of his younger wife, has just killed a man in the man's train compartment. Lantier, looking at Severine, provides a statement that avoids implicating either her or her husband, but then fatefully finds himself falling in love with her. And Severine? "I am incapable of loving anyone," she tells Lantier. But Lantier moves into a passionate affair with her, a relationship which Lantier needs and which Severine uses. Severine realizes how Lantier might be used to solve the problem of her husband's existence. From there, the movie moves ahead with all the power of Lantier's steam engine and with all the inevitability of death. There is no redemption, no absolution for anyone. And at the end, what is Lantier's epitaph? Just "Poor guy."

La Bete Humaine is a great example of Jean Renoir's ability to tell a story which focuses on the humanity of the characters while not flinching from their circumstances or the results of their actions. The style of the movie is integral to its effect. The railway scenes all were shot on location. The grime of the workingmen's lives is everywhere. For all the scenes of the train on the move, only one brief back-screen projection shot was used, at the end of the movie for obvious reasons. Renoir and his cameraman, his nephew Claude Renoir, set cameras on the train focused on the engine cab, or attached to the side of the engine. The train powers its way over the tracks, through tunnels and across bridges. The sound track was recorded right there. Renoir also used great imagery. That shot of Gabin with the goggles on his forehead framed against the sky is almost iconic. A stabbing which takes several minutes is inter-cut with scenes of a dance for the trainmen and a man on stage singing a popular music hall song. The first consummation of the relationship between Lantier and Severine takes place in a hard rainstorm, and the camera cuts away to a downspout gushing water into a barrel, fading out and back to the water slowly stopping in the morning, then moving to a doorway to show two pairs of feet in shoes step away from the small shack. I have to think that Hitchcock would have envied that scene, although Renoir plays it matter-of-factly, without the hint of a smirk.

Gabin, for me, is probably the best film actor. He doesn't show a lot of emotion; his face can sometimes barely move. He's not a particularly handsome man. Even so, he can move from sad longing to fearful emotional distress in seconds. He doesn't seem to look much different when Lantier is happy, looking forward to meeting Severine, to when he looks distressed but determined, when he intends to do what Severine wants him to do. But there is no doubt what Lantier is feeling.

This is a terrific, tough, sad film well worth owning. The Criterion DVD looks excellent. The extras include an introduction by Renoir, a useful interview with Peter Bogdanovitch and a fascinating short film made in 1957 showing Renoir directing Simone Simon in a scene from La Bete Humaine. Included in the case is a substantial booklet which includes three articles about Renoir and this movie.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mystery Train March 10 2003
By D. Hartley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
Although the identifying phrase "Film Noir" was yet to be used for another few decades, Jean Renoir's "La Bete Humaine" could arguably be considered one of the genre's blueprints. In fact, aside from the over-melodramatic music score, this naturalistic 1938 thriller looks and feels very contemporary. Jean Gabin is quite effective as the brooding train engineer plagued by "blackouts" in which he commits acts of uncontrollable violence, usually precipitated by moments of passion (Freudians will have a field day with all the point-of-view camerawork showing Gabin chugging his big, powerful locomotive through long dark tunnels). The beautiful Simone Simon sets the mold for all future Femme Fatales with an earthy, Sophia Loren-type sexuality not usually found in movies from the 1930's. In fact, it would be another 30 years or so before American crime films like "In Cold Blood" and "Bonnie And Clyde" would adapt a similar blend of adult language, sexuality and unflinching violence (in 1938, Hollywood was too busy pumping out Shirley Temple movies). Moody cinematography and a general existential malaise certainly doesn't make this a "feel good" popcorn movie, but fans of classic Noir will be fascinated. (Note: this film was remade in 1954 as "Human Desire").
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A full package Nov. 10 2006
By From Elder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I'm not a great fan of Renoir, but here his style works well. He's good at photography, and usually weak on story flow - too loaded with sentiment. This heavy theme works well under his control. The print is generally good, and the extras are copius and very interesting. The psychological depictions feel authentic. Gabin's character is difficult to understand. This is not a flaw, because he is like so many real people I've encountered, difficult to understand because of their internal conflicts. His conflicts have been controlled and muted by limiting his life's focus to the train. Although his sidekick sometimes border on the "straight man", he never quite goes over the line. It contrasts well with the deep darkness of Gabin's character.

In summary: A great movie, a good repro, and a fine disc set.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zola's tale of passionate doom done brilliantly by Renoir Feb. 21 2006
By Bomojaz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
A passionate story of illicit love that can only end tragically - and it does. Jean Gabin is a train engineer who witnesses a murder on the train: a jealous and brutal husband (Fernand Ledoux) has killed his boss in a fit of jealousy after he learns that his wife (Simone Simon) has slept with him to get her husband his job. Suspecting Gabin has seen the murder take place, he sends Simone to him to "convince" him to keep his mouth shut about it, and before long he and Simon are lovers. Typically, the lovers conclude that the only way they can be together as they wish is to do away with Ledoux, but Gabin can't bring himself to do it.

Early in the film it's hinted that Gabin had once suffered from depression with destructive impulses, and now this comes into play; however, he kills Simone instead of Ledoux. Gabin then commits suicide by leaping from his speeding train. Gabin is fascinating in his role, as is the beautiful Simone - their love scenes are passionate without being overdone. In fact, the entire cast rivets out attention throughout the movie. The train sequences - all filmed on location with no back projections - are powerful and exciting. Renoir's direction is also superb. An excellent movie; definitely worth a watch.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly Renoir's finest film Dec 16 2006
By Trevor Willsmer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
La Bete Humaine is my favorite Renoir and one which tends to divide many of his critics and admirers. For me it's an exhilarating and involving piece of cinema with characters destroyed by and destroying themselves in events in much more credible circumstances than in Regle du Jeu, which gives it some real emotional and thematic weight beyond mere parlor games - not to mention having the thrill of seeing post WW1 French doomed romanticism evolving into proto-film noir before your very eyes. These characters truly do all have their reasons and find their attempts to control events and other people backfiring spectacularly as they lose control in a way that none of the mannequins in Regle do. But it's all subjective. Jean Gabin is superb, the use of locations exemplary and Simone Simon was a babe, even if she does try to bite!
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