If his work often displays the tensions between image and storytelling that one finds in more experimental works, it is because, despite the refined artistry of his images and even a ability through them to convey his tale, the stories he chooses are often basically naturalistic melodramas, as a director like Renoir, for example, had joined forces with Theodore Dreiser. The gritty stories he tells seem so elegantly told that Kirsanoff appears, at moments, to be a director akin to what the films of Douglas Sirk later in the century, remarkably crafted works based on overtly melodramatic scenarios. Ed Howard, in his on-line Only the Cinema blog, expressed this tension in yet another way: “The cinematography [of Kirsanoff] lurches between an almost 19th-century indebtedness to painter composition á la Gustave Caillebotte and the unhinged handheld camera Hans Richter’s Ghost Before Breakfast.
In describing this plot, I realize the true beauty of this film absolutely disappears in the naturalistic detail; one simply has to see it to comprehend its remarkable power. I often disagree with the observations and judgments of the powerful critic Pauline Kael, but, evidentially, she once revealed to Roger Ebert that Ménilmontant was her favorite film, which almost makes the cranky anti-sentimentalist human.