20 Shots: Les Bas-Fonds (1936)


Jean Renoir’s version of The Lower Depths has the rich ambience of classic film noir minus the cynicism. The lead role goes to Jean Gabin who manages to make being un voleur seem like a noble career path, but the heart of the movie belongs to Louis Jouvet’s Baron, who lives his own riches to rags story with great equanimity as long as he can find a card game to sit in on. There’s plenty of counterpoint between high society and a forgotten underworld here and it’s always clear where the Baron’s, and Renoir’s, sympathies lie. Solid performances (by Gabin, Jouvet, Suzy Prim, Jany Holt, André Gabriello, and the rest of the ensemble cast) and tight, interwoven storytelling make this one of Renoir’s finest though lesser known films.


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