Jean Renoir John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[La Chienne] is quite a technical achievement. At a time when sound was in its puling infancy, there are atmospheric existential noises; when lenses were primitive, there is considerable deep focus; when equipment was heavy, there is much effective camera movement. And there is more: a story in which conventional concepts of good and evil are treated with a flexibility bordering on iconoclasm—which was most innovative of all….

La Chienne is far from a great film. Based on an insignificant novel, it has a rather preposterous plot; its characters are, for the most part, either too stupid to follow up on options that any fool would grab at, or, like the hero's wife, so simplistically exaggerated as to lose all humanity. Even key details are unconvincing….

La Chienne is fascinating, though, for a variety of nonartistic reasons. First, as a lesson in how unseriously cinema was taken not so long ago…. The mist that enshrouds ancient literature still envelops the films of the thirties.

Then there are the curious anecdotes and legends that surround this movie. We have it on Renoir's word that Simon, Marèse, and Flamant lived in real life a tragic triangle not unlike the one they enacted on screen. Yet another example, you might say, of life imitating art—or, in this case, pseudo-art….

La Chienne gathers pretentious critical exegeses as an old hull does barnacles.

John Simon, "Bitchcraft," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1976 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 9, No. 20, May 17, 1976, p. 70.