September 14, 1937 [Les bas-fonds/The Lower Depths]

Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths resonates still--and will for a long time, simple as it is: place a number of down-and-outers together, let them show you what they are--you, that is, except without the clean face and collar, and food and shelter--and we see Roosevelt's one-third of a nation--and some of us wait with Clifford Odets for Lefty, so that we can awake and sing.

Jean Renoir's film, though, will not wait--and tries not to weep, as Jean Gabin and others--among them Louis Jouvet's insouciant "Baron"--stick out their Gallic chins and raise an eyebrow--and cock their hats to one side--to stare down misery, even smile a little, suddenly warmed by French charm--and more so, the French shrug, accepting the depths. Watching the Baron and Gabin consider the snail as they lay out there in the open field--a situation that usually does not forgive one for being poor--they see themselves inching along, and know they will continue--yes, in poverty, even that misery they try so hard to thumb noses at; but on they will go. I am appalled by the thought of it, the poor always with us; but somewhere in this movie is an unexpected poke in the thin ribs, and the rueful comedy continues.


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