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Film / La Chienne

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La Chienne ("The Bitch") is a 1931 film directed by Jean Renoir.

Maurice Legrand is a meek, timid cashier for a hosiery company. His life isn't a particularly happy one—his coworkers don't respect him, and at home, he's shackled to his wife Adele, who despises him. His only joy is painting, which he does as a hobby. On the way home from a company party, he sees one Andre "Dede" Jauguin smacking around an attractive young woman named Lucienne "Lulu" Pelletier. Maurice knows Andre down and escorts Lulu home.

Maurice is a gentleman but extremely naive, and doesn't pick up on the fact that Lulu is a prostitute and Andre is her pimp. Lulu is deeply in love with Andre despite the fact that he's a creep and a lout who is physically abusive to her. She doesn't like Maurice at all but pretends to be his girlfriend so Andre can bleed him for money. When Maurice gives her his paintings, Lulu and Andre pass them off as hers and sell them, making quite a bit of money. Eventually Maurice finds out how he was deceived, with tragic consequences.

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This film received a highly faithful American remake, Scarlet Street, in 1945, directed by Fritz Lang. Janie Marese, who played Lulu, died in a car wreck at the age of 23 right after finishing the movie.


Tropes:

  • Asshole Victim: Lulu is a liar and a thief who ruthlessly manipulates poor dumb Maurice. Andre is worse, a pimp, woman-beater, and all-around scumbag. They both meet dire fates.
  • Blackmail: Alexis attempts this, threatening to reveal that he is still alive unless Maurice pays him off. He miscalculates, as Maurice is only too thrilled to get out of his awful marriage after finding out Adele's first husband isn't dead.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Lulu, who was hit by Andre, gives the standard "I bumped into a door" excuse when Maurice sees the bruise.
  • Distant Finale: Maurice meets Alexis on the street; he reveals that Adele died "years ago".
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  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: How Andre plops himself under a chair while devising the scheme to sell Maurice's paintings under Lulu's (fake) name.
  • Framing Device: A peculiar one. The film starts with a puppet show in which the puppets introduce the story and the main characters, then argue about whether or not the story has a moral. The curtain rises and the movie starts. Then at the end, as the camera pulls back, the puppet show window appears again and the curtain falls.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Lulu is cackling derisively at Maurice. The scene cuts to a shot of the letter opener on the bed. Then there's a cut to the street performer outside. Then the film cuts back to the bedroom, with Lulu's upper body having slid off the bed and the pillowcase drenched in blood.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Maurice walks forlornly out into a pouring rain after catching Lulu and Andre in bed together.
  • Henpecked Husband: Adele spends most of her time scowling and shrieking, when she isn't comparing Maurice to her dead husband and finding Maurice wanting. Most cruelly, she tries to stop him from painting, his one solace.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Lulu tells a girl friend that when Maurice is having sex with her, "I lay back and think of Dede."
  • Love Martyr: Andre slaps Lulu around, takes all her money, pimps her out, and clearly doesn't even really like her. And she's hopelessly in love anyway. In one scene she signs over a check for 5000 francs to Andre and asks if she can "borrow" 300 of her own money for expenses. He refuses.
  • Love Triangle: One of the puppets in the weird Framing Device describes the story as "he, she, and the other guy, as always."
  • Match Cut: From Adele counting out money to Andre dealing cards in the cafe.
  • Relatively Flimsy Excuse: Lulu claims that Andre is her brother, to explain why he's always hanging around. Gullible Maurice buys it.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: So says Alexis after revealing that he switched dog tags with a dead guy on the Western Front in September 1914 in order to escape Adele.
  • Stealing from the Till: How Maurice pays for having a kept woman. He's fired from his job and winds up a vagrant.
  • Street Performer: A violinist and singer performing in the street outside the apartment building provide an unintentional distraction allowing Maurice to enter, murder Lulu, and leave unseen.
  • Time Skip: "Several weeks go by" while Lulu and Andre are selling Maurice's paintings.
  • Title Drop: Maurice calls Lulu a bitch at the climax, right before he kills her.
  • Untranslated Title: Even in the 21st century it would be difficult to market a film called The Bitch (although there was a Joan Collins film by that title in the 1970s).
  • Would Hit a Girl: Andre slaps Lulu around whenever she pisses him off, which is frequently.
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