Wednesday 22 November 2017

My Top Ten Films of All Time (6) - LE CRIME DE M. LANGE (Jean Renoir, France, 1936)

US Rialto Pictures DVD cover  of pre-restoration edition
Editor's Note: My tech-smart brother has created another Film Alert website to collect up some older stuff and has also assembled  the Top Ten selections I have thus far revealed. You can go to this Wordpress site for all the details. Now read on...

 I was taken aback just a little while ago when the esteemed Joseph McBride indicated significant distaste for Jean Renoir’s 1936 Le Crime de M. Lange. McBride was of the view, and I hope I’m not misrepresenting him, that the film sanctioned murder and that couldn’t be condoned in any circumstances.

So in returning to a viewing of the film this thought was quite to the fore. You have to get almost to the end of the film before the moment occurs when the evil Batala, a man who has stolen from his workers, debauched a young female on staff, importuned many others, fled from capture and then returned in the guise of a priest, with a view to resuming control of his now successful  business and no doubt doing it all again. Lange was and remains the most valuable employee and the man whose imagination has transformed the cheap printing business into a powerhouse publisher living off the adventures of Lange’s creation Arizona Jim.  

In the scene in question, Batala has returned and meets Lange alone in his former office. He outlines his plans for taking control once more and openly scoffs at Lange’s defence of the new worker co-operative. Batala leaves and the camera lingers on Lange as he stares at a desk drawer which we know contains a pistol.  Batala then comes across Valentine, Lange’s love and again attempts to importune here. Lange rushes down the stairs pistol in hand pushes Batala away and shoots him. Lange is raced away by Valentine and they flee. The film has unreeled in one long flashback until now. It returns to the present and Lange is judged by a jury of his peers… 

I saw the film again most recently when an astonishing new restoration was unveiled at Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato just last July. 

My thoughts then, written mere moments after: The young man who introduced the screening of Jean Renoir’s Le Crime de M. Lange (France, 1936) on behalf of the now rights holder Studio Canal said it had been the most difficult restoration the company had ever done. 

Those who attended the first screenings in Australia back in the early sixties, when it was part of a MUFS Night Season, recalled only too well the quality of the 16mm copy on display. It wasn’t much better when it was shown on SBS sometime in the 90s. 

Some of those who attended the MUFS screening were actually back at Bologna's Arlecchino Cinema for the packed to the rafters premiere of the restoration that for many was the last of their jobs to tick off from this year’s highly successful selection. Glad to get that out of the way!

Valentine (Odette Florelle) and Lange (Rene Lefevre), make their escape
From the moment of the first credit there was a near instant sigh. Now we could see it and even more hear it properly. The stories of Lange, Valentine, Batala, Charlie and Estelle made me weep all over again. Once again Renoir’s paean to spontaneous community action, of people joining together in common cause and resisting ‘oppression’ lit up our lives. I’d forgotten the character of the young son of the owner who arrives to survey his business to be told that it is being turned into a co-operative. “What is a co-operative?” he asks blankly before he is informed that the man leading the effort is also the author of his beloved Arizona Jim serials. Enough said and Meunier joins the throng.

Jules Berry as Batala, Le Crime de M. Lange
It is I think Renoir’s greatest film and one of the handful of the very greatest thrown up by the cinema itself. Here’s Truffaut from the (Bologna) catalogue: 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.

The 4K restoration work was done by Bologna’s incomparable L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. …
I hold out hope that after screenings at Bologna and then at the 2017 New York Film Festival someone will find room for the restored version to be screened down here sometime soon. Then can come the Blu-ray edition and we can all hold a permanent record in our homes of this priceless work of art.

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