La Bête Humaine

Jean Renoir’s loose adaptation of Émile Zola’s novel is seen as a proto-noir, in that it involves murder and a (kind of) femme fatale named Séverine (played by Simone Simon), though our sympathies are very much with her for the most part and there’s no heroic male figure playing off her in this story. Renoir regular Jean Gabin is very good as Lantier, the railway engineer who falls in love with her, but he has ‘bad blood’, which means his murderous, misogynistic tendencies are explained away as a genetic affliction. With Séverine’s husband intent on killer another of her lovers and Séverine herself attempting to convince Lantier to kill her husband, it’s clear that it’s not going to end well. Renoir’s steam train sequences are quite compelling… in fact they’re almost as interesting to watch as Gabin and Simon’s brief romantic, doomed dalliances. I liked this and I’m looking forward to seeing more Renoir. (****)