Criterion Prediction #117: The Crime of Monsieur Lange, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Crime of Monsieur Lange
Director: Jean Renoir
Cast: René Lefèvre, Jules Berry, Marcel Lévesque, Odette Florelle, Odette Talazac, Nadia Sibirskaïa
Synopsis: A man and woman stop over at a hotel while they flee the country to Belgium. The clientele and staff recognize the man, Lange, a wanted fugitive. While he rests his companion, Valentine is aware that they’ve been outed and decides to recount the events leading up to the crime of which he committed.
Critique: Peter Bogdanovich once said “there’s Renoir and there’s everyone else” and whenever I revisit one of the great director’s films, it’s a sentiment that rings true because he was such an indelible master of the craft.
A movie like The Crime of Monsieur Lange demonstrates how its architecture is soundly calibrated and deftly executed but also highlights Renoir’s political acumen. As is the case with the briskly potent allegorical pull of Grand Illusion, The Rules of the Game, isn’t subtle, but handled with a maturity and sense grace. We don’t think of Renoir and his cinema as overtly political but it is. And with his evocative lensing of humanity, his films lend themselves to a malleable artistry that’s both cogent and delicate.
So where does that put The Crime of Monsieur Lange, a story that feels like a socialist anthem that more or less asks its audience to justify the killing (or crime) our protagonist has committed by liberating his workplace from a detestable, financially irresponsible, lecherous boss whose absence before being killed ushered in a flourishing workplace as the varied staff worked as a collective. It seems impossible to write/read anything about this film without touching on its actual placement. The significance of its proximity of the popular front means it doesn’t take much to figure out where the film’s sympathies lie.
As a reluctant millennial whose political sympathies have devolved from armchair socialism to rudimentary social ecology, it’s plain to see that there’s an invigorated charge in the structure of the film. And in the way of cultural objectivity, I can’t adequately put on airs and act as if I can put my fingers on the pulse of France’s societal tenor in the 1930’s.
But Renoir gives a peek behind the curtain with this cleverly conceived film. The class-collaborationist policies of the popular front dictated a seismic shift as Stalin sought an alliance with Britain and France against what would be the threat of Nazi Germany; yet the notion of class collaborationist policies seems to violate the tenet of Socialism. To harken back to the steadfast direction of Renoir; there’s a referential connectivity to The Crime of Monsieur Lange. You can see traces of Capra, Lubitsch, Sturges, even Hawks in this tightly fastened but freewheeling journey.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: What’s more exciting? Realizing that a classic film from a renowned director is reassembled, restored and is looking and sounding better than you remember or that there’s a good chance that film in question is likely candidate for a Criterion release? I think both prospects apply to The Crime of Monsieur Lange and are cause to celebrate.