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Film | Village Voice




Another ingenious double bill from Criterion, this set slams together the 1936 French version of Maxim Gorky’s theatrical yowl directed by Jean Renoir, and the 1957 Japanese adaptation by Akira Kurosawa. Both filmmakers were thick in their careers’ peaking phases, and both films are miracles of deep-image composition and plan-séquence eloquence. In any other sense, the films couldn’t differ more. Gorky’s pre-revolutionary tantrum about class injustice and institutionalized poverty naturally proved to be timeless (though never as scandalous as in 1902 Russia). But, customarily, Renoir sought out balance and humanistic sympathy, reshaping the narrative so the thief (Jean Gabin) and the Baron (Louis Jouvet) bond over their mutual rebellion against the social system. The text’s pre-Socialist message morphed into a tale of friendship and individualism, and according to Renoir, Gorky liked the changes. Kurosawa’s vision, while more faithful to the play, is even more dire than Gorky’s—the flophouse inhabited by self-deluding lowlifes is here, literally, a 19th-century shit-hole, almost Beckettian in its abstracted dehumanization. Supplementing the diptych is a fascinating array of essays, commentaries, and dossiers, including footage of Renoir himself introducing his film, and the obligatory episode from the superlative 2003 Japanese TV series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create.

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