Monday, July 13, 2009
La Bête Humaine(1938)
By Eric Jessen 7/13/09
By the end I was out of breath. I couldn't take any more of the depressing and overly bleak view of people. La bête humaine is often sad but beautiful, poetic and full of passion. Jean Renoir is a genius of atmosphere. La bête humaine has a fantastic cast that includes Jean Gabin as a train engineer, Simone Simon with her bedroom eyes as the seductress and Fernand Ledoux as the troubled husband of Simon, Roubaud. La bête humaine can be strange, sick and riveting but there is only so much jealousy, lust, manipulation, murder and Gabin's strange delirium I can take. The grim nature of the movie is tiring.
We first meet train conductor Jacques played by Jean Gabin who is all greasy and dirty for the roll. Jacques is a strange tormented man. He is a big strong train engineer but appears weak and vulnerable. It turns out he has a weird pathology. Whenever he begins to fall in love or lusts for a women he is overcome by the urge to kill. He says everything gets “hazy” and he can't control himself. We first see Jacques' illness when he holds and kisses former loved one Flore (Blanchette Brunoy) and then suddenly starts chocking her. Jacques tries to keep to himself in fear that he'll kill someone.
We also meet the young luscious Séverine (Simone Simon) and her husband Roubaud. Séverine had a tough childhood and has grown up to be bitter and scheming. Every man she meets tries to use her for sex, so she uses their lust against them. It's her way of controlling them. She uses her husband to kill her lover Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz). The murder is committed on a train and witnessed by Jacques. Jacques saw Roubaud and Séverine go into Grandmorin's cabin so Séverine seduces Jacques so he won't tell the police. Séverine then tries to manipulate Jacques into killing her husband by convincing him she has always loved him. But just as Jacques is going to kill Roubaud he suddenly becomes delirious and stabs Séverine.
Both Séverine and Jacques are tragic characters. They are unable to love. As the song goes in the movie, Séverine offers her heart to everyone but never gives it away. Jacques on the other hand is forced to avoid love because of his illness.
Everyone in La bête humaine is tormented and sad. The fantastically photographed, monstrous train represents every character's life barreling down a deep and dark tunnel. Finally at the end Jacques can't stand his tortured life anymore and jumps off. He relieved himself and the audience of any further depressing, melancholy exhaustion.