LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE
Sog.: Jean Castanier, Jean Renoir. Scen.: Jacques Prévert, Jean Renoir. F.: Jean Bachelet. M.: Marguerite Renoir. Scgf.: Jean Castanier, Robert Gys. Mus.: Jean Wiener, Joseph Kosma. Int.: René Lefèvre (Amédée Lange), Jules Berry (Batala), Odette Florelle (Valentine), Nadia Sibirskaïa (Estelle), Sylvia Bataille (Edith), Marcel Levesque (il portinaio), Odette Talazac (la moglie del portinaio), Henri Guisol (Meunier). Prod.: André Halley Des Fontaines per Films Obéron. DCP. D.: 80’. Bn.
Of all Renoir’s films Monsieur Lange is the most spontaneous, the richest in miracles of camera work, the most full of pure beauty and truth. In short, is is a film touched by divine grace.
Let us recall that the original scenario was called On the Courtyard. The general idea of the film is to bring together around this courtyard a certain number of characters and activities and to depict the little community, this chance product of urban geography, in an almost unanimiste vein. There are those who both live and work on the courtyard: the concierges, the washerwoman, and Lange himself; and those who only enter the courtyard when they come to work: the typographers, the women who work for Valentine. etc. With the exception of a few ‘exterior’ scenes, we know this community only in relation to the courtyard and the activities which center around it.
This dramatic concept was realized in a set, but not a set built on a series of studio stages. The set was built in its entirety in the courtyard of the Billancourt studio. In this vast complex each important part of the set (the concierge’s lodge, the laundry, the big stairway, the composing room, Batala’s office) occupied its actual position around the courtyard, whose center became the geometric locus for all the action. A significant detail added to this geometric conception: the concentric pattern of the paving stones in the courtyard.
Given this physical disposition of the set, it is clear that while the deep-focus shot would be the appropriate technique for action at the periphery, only the pan would be logical for action observed from the courtyard. Renoir took this concept to its logical conclusion in a stroke of genius which brilliantly synthesizes the whole spatial structure of the film: the 360-degree pan which follows Lange from Batala’s office. through the workshop, down the steps and onto the stoop, continuing counterclockwise as he walks across to the right and out of the camera’s line of vision, and sweeping the entire courtyard before coming full circle to pick up Lange again at the fountain where he has gone to kill Batala. This stunning turn of the camera, apparently contrary to all logic, has perhaps psychological or dramatic justification (it gives an impression of dizziness, of madness, of suspense), but its real raison d’être is more germane to the conception of the film: it is the pure spatial expression of the entire mise en scène.
André Bazin, Jean Renoir, edited by François Truffaut, W.H. Allen, London-New York 1974