by Douglas Messerli
Jean Castanyer, Jacques Prévert, and Jean Renoir (screenplay), Jean Renoir (director) Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (The Crime of Monsieur Lange) / 1936
Jean Renoir’s 1936 film, The Crime of Monsieur Lange, is a hefty mix of a murder tale and comedy, dipped in a syrup of politics and love.
Made during Renoir’s flirtation with and, soon, open embracement with the Communist Party (the very next year Renoir made a promotional film for the Party), it is one of the loveliest films of his early period. In this light story, there are only a couple of dark scenes, but they are among the most important. One, is the scene in which Charles’ girlfriend, having been impregnated by Battala’s rape, is giving birth: the child dies, but the mother thankfully survives. The other is the scene of the crime. As Battala, revealing himself to Lange, moves toward the right and out of the frame, Renoir pans his camera on a circular arc to the left, revealing the collective still celebrating within, before returning to the source of their previous distress, the villain finally showing his face to Lange. Battala is represented through angles, at a pitch; he is, we recall, a man who has angled and pitched his way through life. Lange, on the other hand, has been strengthened and emboldened by the circle of his friends. In this remarkable cinematic encounter, we realize that the dreamer has finally awakened. He acts to kill a man who has already long been spiritually dead.