Nov 18, 2019

La Bête Humaine

Genetic taints and evil loose women are two of my favorite cinematic subjects (and, of course, subjects in general), so it is only natural that La Bête Humaine (1938) aka The Human Beast aka Judas Was a Woman—a film that also belongs to my preferred frog cinema movement of ‘poetic realism’—is unquestionably my favorite Jean Renoir (The Grand Illusion, The Rules of the Game) film; or so I just discovered this past week after watching the film for the very first time and joyously discovering a totally timeless and haunting romantic tragedy that reminded why thots kill. Indeed, featuring the ultimate femme fatale portrayed by Simone Simon—a little lady with the perfect femme fatale pedigree as a half-heeb/half-guido mischling with a rather revealing taste for less-than-handsome wealthy chosenites—the film undoubtedly sparked my less than latent misogyny and contempt for cold cunts that use their cunts as weapons. While Renoir’s masterpiece might be nearly ancient in terms of age, it is as fresh as a Mormon teenage girl in terms of offering forgotten perennial wisdom, which you will not find in contemporary cinema, in regard to the ways of women; or at least the sort of woman that is a true whore and beyond any sort of redemption when it comes to love. A rare cinematic example of the degeneration theories of Judaic proto-eugenicists Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau where a scheming whore meets her match in the form of a genetically forsaken train engineer that is plagued with sexually homicidal tendencies due to being the degenerate descendant of countless hardcore dipsomaniacs, La Bête Humaine—a film that is more or less an extremely abridged adaptation of the 1890 Émile Zola novel of the same name—is also a grim yet gorgeous celluloid love letter to love, sex, death, and locomotives where man and machine almost seem to become one in terms of visceral intensity of libido. While the film does not feature a literal train wreck, the film’s protagonist’s cataclysmic demise is certainly an apt substitute as he literally and figuratively kills his love and then himself in the end after succumbing to the contrived charms of a cunty conniving succubus. 

 By sheer happenstance, I watched La Bête Humaine for the first time only days before watching the documentary Maurice Pialat: Love Exists (2007) where criminally unsung French auteur Maurice Pialat (À Nos Amours, Under the Sun of Satan)—a new personal favorite who, in terms of unmasking the nasty nuances of humanity, is like a sort of heterosexual frog Fassbinder—credits Renoir’s masterpiece as influencing his decision to become a filmmaker, stating, “The film that made me realize…I guess you could call it a vocation…It was the film that, at that time, oddly…We’d see a film one, never twice. But this one I saw 3 or 4 times. It was Renoir’s LA BÊTE HUMAINE.” In the same doc, Pialat also expresses his love and admiration for Renoir’s technically-unfinished 40-minute featurette A Day in the Country (1946) aka Partie de champagne. As a recently devout Pialat fan, I am not surprised by his assessment of Renoir’s work as these two films express a purity of aesthetic spirit and sort of perverse poetic humanistic realism that certainly transcends the director’s more famous flicks like The Grand Illusion (1937), The Rules of the Game (1939), and The River (1951). In fact, even Renoir’s The Southerner (1945)—a sort of proto-neorealist exercise that was heavily influenced by the documentary work of New Deal propagandist Pare Lorentz and Robert Flaherty—does not come close to these films in terms of presenting certain archetypal truths. Depicting the ultimate femme fatale from hell in a petite doll-like form, La Bête Humaine is a beauteously bleak bittersweet tragedy where forsaken genetic destiny and feminine evil collide and ultimately cancel each other out in an almost ironical fashion. While Renoir’s film contains a fairly simple yet sensually-charged (anti)love story that would make for a nice subplot on Twin Peaks, it is ultimately a timeless tale about the miserable absurdity of human relationships, especially of the ‘romantic’ sort where the hopelessly despoiled conspiring whore finally meets her match in the murderously passionate male genetic degenerate. In short, the central ‘couple’ was practically made for one another in the worst sort of way in what seems like a sick joke of fate. 

 Notably, in her magnum opus Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), Camille Paglia—a virtual degenerate dago dyke Spengler—remarks in regard to male’s greatest weakness, “Love is the spell by which he puts his sexual fear to sleep.” Despite knowing full well that he gets the homicidal urge to strangle women to death when sexually aroused, La Bête Humaine protagonist Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin)—a strong and stoic workaholic that is able to repress his well-hidden deep-seated sadness via his virtual lust for train work—makes the mistake of a lifetime by falling in love with a married harlot named Séverine Roubaud (Simone Simon) who he knows full well was involved in a murder. The bastard broad of a lecherous maid, Séverine—a pernicious pedomorphic parasite that lives off bad men yet then has the audacity to cry for herself when said bad men treat her badly—certainly has a stereotypical whore background and her involvement in the robbery-cum-murder of her wealthy godfather, ‘Grandmorin’ (Jacques Berlioz), was partly a means to appease the undying jealously of her rather pathetic husband Roubaud (Fernand Ledoux). Indeed, when Roubaud discovers that his beloved moonfaced wife is a serial liar and that she did not disclose the fact that she was being defiled by Grandmorin (who the film hints may actually be her biological father) when she was still just a little girl before the two got married (as he reasonably remarks, he did not realize his was marrying an “old man’s cast-off”), he irrationally decides robbing and killing the old fart will somehow help him deal with his murderously malicious jealousy. Rather ironically, instead of dissolving his jealousy, the coldblooded killing of Grandmorin leads to Roubaud’s flagrant cuckolding as Séverine is forced to utilize her fierce femme fatale wiles on the film’s hapless yet hearty hero Jacques Lantier as he is a passive witness at the scene of the crime. Unfortunately for Séverine, Lantier is a man with a genetic taint that causes him to ‘see red’ when sexually aroused and the femme fatale might not have many talents but she does know how to prime a guy's pump. 

 In what proves to be the perfect setting for an inordinately fluidly moving and rhythmically immaculate film, the murder of Grandmorin takes place on a train. As a man of such fiery passions, it is quite fitting that Lantier is a train engineer, though his co-worker Roubaud—a somewhat sad and pathetic fellow with a degree of superficial charm and certain antisocial qualities—might not be the best choice for deputy stationmaster at Le Havre. While Roubaud clearly cares more about his wanton wife Séverine than his job, Lantier is so proud of his job that he describes his train as his “wife,” even stating quite joyously, “I’m already married to Lison. She’s good enough for me.” Of course, Lantier has good reason to prefer his work to any sort of woman, as he nearly strangles to death an (ex)lover named Flore (Blanchette Brunoy)—a voluptuous blonde beauty that rather enjoys mocking men sans the protagonist—near the beginning of the film as the two attempt to make love on a grassy hill. Rather symbolically, it is only when a train passes by that Lantier falls out of his homicidal haze and releases poor Flore (who is not nearly as nice in Émile Zola’s source novel) from his seemingly demonic grip. As Lantier explains to Flore in regard to the strange nature of his aberrant actions, “I didn’t even know what I was doing […] It’s like this haze fills my head and twists everything out of shape. I start feeling like a mad dog. I never drink, mind you. Even a drop and I go crazy. I feel like I’m paying for all those fathers and grandfathers who drank. All those generations of drunkards who poisoned my blood and saddled me with this madness. It’s a terrible thing. But I love you with all my heart. So much that I was afraid to come here.” Despite nearly killing her, Flore still expresses her desire to marry Lantier, but the protagonist seems to love her too much to put her in such a precarious predicament where every potential sex act could bring more literal meaning to the French phrase La petite mort. Needless to say, succubus Séverine—a deceptively cutesy ice queen that practically drenches men with perfumic pussy juice with her mere sweet-eye glance—makes for a more fitting lover for lady-killer Lantier, especially after she attempts to get him to kill her husband and thus loses any marginal degree of empathy the viewer might have originally granted her. 

Not only is Séverine a superlatively salacious slut that has no qualms about getting involved in the coldblooded killing of a godfather that apparently provided her much materially, but she also seems to really bask in such sadistic seductress savagery as demonstrated by the fact that she slyly smirks while stating, “There must be a way to win over a fellow like that” after coming to the instinctual decision to seduce Lantier and, in turn, cheat on her husband. Of course, considering her almost vampiric good-looks, Séverine—a virtual proto-goth girl that knows how to drain a man of both his emotional and ejaculatory juices—does not have to do much to completely seduce Lantier despite the fact that the protagonist is fully aware that she and her husband were responsible for the dubious demise of Grandmorin. In fact, even when a goofy poor prole named Cabuche (Jean Renoir in the most unforgettable acting role of his career) is charged with the murder, Lantier still cannot bring himself to tell the truth as sassy slut Séverine has already completely invaded his mind and compromised his godforsaken soul. As more than hinted by an unforgettable scene where Lantier and Séverine have a long coital session in a muddy shack that symbolizes the purity (or lack thereof) of their unsavory union, the two seem to have great sexual chemistry so it is only natural that their uniquely ungodly romance eventually concludes with the most permanent of releases. 

 Not merely satisfied with simply cuckolding her long-suffering husband, Séverine soon conspires to have Lantier kill Roubaud. Indeed, Séverine dubiously promises to be Lantier’s wifey if he kills her husband, as if she would not do the same exact thing to him in the future if she got the chance. The most shamelessly flagrant of femme fatales, Séverine even follows Lantier—a fairly uncomplicated man that sentimentally dreams of a simple future where he comes home from work everyday to a wife that loves him—along and provides him with inspirational kisses on his first failed attempt to kill Roubaud. Of course, Lantier does not want to kill Roubaud and when his conscience gets the best of him only seconds before he is about to bash in the brains of the stationmaster during a quiet night at the tracks, Séverine immediately expresses her dissatisfaction by disappearing into the night like a runaway Maenad looking for a new victim. Fully committed to becoming a young widow, Séverine immediately begins using various forms of manipulation to inspire Lantier to kill, including openly flirting with much younger men and saying contrived melodramatic bullshit like, “There’s no way forward for us now. We can’t go any further. Tomorrow will be just like yesterday: the same grief and sorrow. It doesn’t really matter. What happens, happens.” Not unlike most women, it is hard to tell if Séverine is telling the truth or merely strategically exploiting some manipulative distortion of the truth, but she does seem to be expressing some honesty when she remarks to Lantier, “We should have stayed like we were in the beginning, when we loved each other but didn’t pursue it. You remember those innocent walks we used to take? They helped me forget about Grandmorin. When you’ve experienced all the disgusting things I knew as a young girl, it’s madness to hope for a true love of your own.” Indeed, aside from revealing the female tendency toward embracing escapism at all costs when being confronted with even the slightest degree of discomfort, Séverine’s remark hints at the incapacity for a whore to actually truly love someone. Just like Grandmorin and Roubaud, Lantier would be nothing more than a means to an end for Séverine were he to carry out the killing. Luckily, a genetic taint intervenes and Séverine’s venomous vaginal menace is eradicated from the world. 

 Rather interestingly, in his classic (yet scientifically dubious) text Degeneration (1892) aka Entartung, pioneering Zionist theorist and eugenicist Max Nordau argues that genetic degeneration is a sort of self-solving problem as degenerates do not tend to reproduce. Undoubtedly, this can certainly be said of protagonist Lantier and his beloved femme fatale Séverine. Aside from randomly impulsively murdering Séverine in her bed instead of her husband (as he originally intended), Lantier is so consumed with lovesick grief and guilt that he soon commits suicide by jumping off his beloved train Lison, thus leaving his best friend and co-worker Pecqueux (Julien Carette) behind to pick up the pieces. Shortly after committing the killing and before arriving at work to eventually commit suicide, Lantier—like a train that has derailed and is about to smash into eternity—forcefully treads down the train tracks in an unforgettable scene that anticipates the similarly bleak conclusion of Peter Lorre’s sole directorial effort The Lost One (1951) aka Der Verlorene. Not unlike Lorre’s character, Lantier is a virtual walking and talking ghost after killing his lover and thus his suicide seems like not much more than an incidental detail from a tragic wasted life. As Pecqueux remarks while looking at the corpse of his dead comrade, “Poor guy. How he must have suffered to come to this. I haven’t seen him look so peaceful in a long time.” Notably, Lantier’s corpse is found in a place near train tracks that looks strikingly similar to where the protagonist almost strangled to death his (ex)lover Flore at the beginning of the film in a poetic scene that underscores the tragically accursed nature of his love life; or literal La petite mort

 While La Bête Humaine has many simple (yet perennial) themes, one of the more obvious yet easily overlooked ones is the incapacity of man and woman ever becoming one despite the seemingly indomitable force of attraction that might have initially thrust them together. Indeed, as Pecqueux wisely states to Lantier, “Love is best early on, before you know each other well, when you’re both on your best behavior.” Of course, had Lantier actually killed Roubaud and gotten away with it, sinful slut Séverine would have no need to be on her best behavior and would probably immediately begin cuckolding the protagonist as being a homicidally hypergamic ho is, of course, her recklessly whorish nature as the femme fatale par excellence. In that sense, Séverine is the ugly extreme of femininity and, in turn, one of cinema’s greatest archetypical villainesses. As for Lantier, he is a sad symbol of male naïvety when it comes to the so-called fairer sex and the potentially deadly blinding that comes with love. As La Bête Humaine rather viscerally reveals, it only takes one woman to come along to destroy a happy man that has passionately mastered a trade—not coincidentally, a trade that no woman could ever master (which is something Renoir really underscores during the film's unforgettably triumphant opening scene where Gabin's character looks quite joyously glorious as he operates the train as if it is an extension of both his body and soul). Of course, human progress is largely the story of man’s instinctual desire to impress women, yet it is ironically oftentimes women or womanly men (read: Weininger) that impedes this progress. While La Bête Humaine does not express the sentiment that a man should find a woman that inspires and supports his work and evolution as an artist or artisan, the film certainly reveals the sort of woman one must avoid: the whore; or the reproductively retrograde harpy that uses her sex as a deleterious weapon for infantile person gain. 

 As Paglia noted in regard to the sort of cuntcentric creature that La Bête Humaine delightfully depicts, “The femme fatale can appear as Medusan mother or as frigid nymph, masquing in the brilliant luminosity of Apollonian high glamour. Her cool unreachability beckons, fascinates, and destroys. She is not a neurotic but, if anything, a psychopath. That is, she has an amoral affectlessness, a serene indifference to the suffering of others, which she invites and dispassionately observes as tests of her power.” Personally, I can say that virtually every single woman that I have ever ‘known’ embodied these anti-qualities to some degree at some point, for the femme fatale, not unlike like male lust killer, is just the ultimate ugly extreme of feminine evil personified. As to why one might want to rethink the opportunity to fuck a whore—no matter how hopelessly hot—Paglia offered some unsettling food for thought when she wrote, “I follow Freud, Nietzsche, and Sade in my view of the amorality of the instinctual life. At some level, all love is combat, a wrestling with ghosts. We are only for something by being against something else. People who believe they are having pleasant, casual, uncomplex sexual encounters, whether with friend, spouse, or stranger, are blocking from consciousness the tangle of psychodynamics at work, just as they block the hostile clashings of their dream life. Family romance operates at all times. The femme fatale is one of the refinements of female narcissism, of the ambivalent self-directedness that is completed by the birth of a child or by the conversion of spouse or lover into child.” Undoubtedly, La Bête Humaine depicts a sort of idealized version of the femme fatale that has enough agency in terms of carefully calculating her kills, but the modern-day world seems plagued with a new sort of degenerate whore (of the usually Cluster B sort) that, completely incapable of love (let alone keeping a man), uses her body to defile as many men as possible as a sort of pathetic substitute for a real relationship (as if a bloated ‘body count’ is not an expression of self-hatred/self-annihilation, at least for women). Of course, just like the archetypical femme fatale, this tragic degenerated ‘failed femme fatale’ will bring chaos and destruction to your life, albeit of the totally nonsensical nihilistic sort. 

 Notably, near the end of his autobiography My Life and My Films (1974), Jean Renoir notes while singling out some of his best films, “Whether the setting is natural, or imitates Nature, or is deliberately artificial, is of little importance. I used external truth in so-called ‘realistic’ films like LA CHIENNE and LA BÊTE HUMAINE, and apparently total artificiality in films like LA PETITE MARCHANDE D’ ALLUMETTES and LE CARROSSE D’OR. I have spent my life experimenting with different styles, but it all comes down to this: my different attempts to arrive at the inward truth, which for me is the only one that matters.” And, undoubtedly, La Bête Humaine certainly achieves this truth in a manner that, not unlike Nietzsche’s philosophizing with a hammer, is akin to the raw rhythmic precision of a locomotive in Mussolini’s Italy and does so with a stark brutalism that makes it hard to believe it was directed by the same auteur that dreamed up the singularly goofy and relatively lighthearted Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932). While a penetratingly pessimistic film for its time, the romantic realm nowadays certainly resembles something more in tune with Delphic delirium and purgatorial paranoia of André Delvaux’s masterpiece One Night... a Train (1968) aka Un Soir, un Train where, among other things, a surreal apocalyptic nightmare scenario offers a temporary reprieve from a catastrophic train accident. Still, despite its age and relation to the present, Renoir’s film is an all-around decided downer and a film that even transcends the auteur's previous masterpiece La Chienne (1931) aka The Bitch—a film so unforgettably stark and pessimistic that Fritz Lang remade it as the film noir Scarlet Street (1945)—in terms of devastating anti-romantic dejection. 

 In his excellent tome Jean Renoir: A Biography (2012), French film critic Pascal Mérigeau underscores the all-encompassingly forsaken spirit of the film when he notes that, “Of all the films directed by Renoir in the thirties, LA BÊTE HUMAINE is the one that could be said to resemble a film by Renoir the least […] In choosing to ascribe Lantier’s wound to heredity, as announced by a quotation from the Zola novel at the beginning of the film, the director evokes a fate that at the time would stick to Gabin’s roles one-screen, condemning to certain death some of the characters he played. Stretching from Pepel in THE LOWER DEPTHS to Jacques Lantier in LA BÊTE HUMAINE are all the hopes born of the Popular Front and abandoned along the way, and everything Renoir liked to believe, or pretended to want to believe. That dark fate is shared with the other main characters […] Never in Renoir’s work has fate had such crushing weight. Lantier cannot stand it, and he kills himself by throwing himself off the top of la Lison as it is running at top speed, whereas in the novel Pecqueux and he kill each other. ‘They’ll be found without heads or feet, two bloody trunks still pressed together, as if to suffocate each other.’”

At the risk of sounding like a humorless philistine, one of the reasons I liked La Bête Humaine so much and was totally shocked by it is because its totally devoid of the sort of the satirical silliness that one expects from a Renoir flick (in fact, the only goofy aspect of the film is Renoir's admittedly quite humorous performance as a bombastic boor).  Of course, the fact that Renoir opted to not use some of the more darker elements of Zola's source novel and changing of Lantier's death from brutal murder to guilt-ridden sucide reveals how much of a hopeless humanist that the filmmaker really was.  Aditionally, there is no doubt that the film owes much of its pathos and melancholic intensity to lead Jean Gabin as demonstrated by the actor's similar perturbingly potent performances in classic films like Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko (1937) and Marcel Carné's Port of Shadows (1938) aka Le Quai des brumes, among various other examples.  Naturally, being a great artist, Renoir was even great when dealing with subjects and moods that were not exactly innate as the La Bête Humaine underscores (and, as Nietzsche noted, there is “praise in choice” as “The artist chooses his subjects; that is his mode of praising,” hence Renoir's use of Zola's nasty novel).  As to Renoir's support of idiotic leftist politics, Nietzsche also offered a clue when he wrote, “Liberality is often only a form of timidity in the rich.”  Luckily, Renoir was not timid when it came to whores and genetic taints.

As to the value of a film like Renoir's in our certainly more degenerate and gynocentric age where virtually every form of sexual sickness is celebrated by everything from public schools to multinational corporations and virtually every aspect of society is meant to appeal to the petty whims and wants of female narcissism while normal heterosexual male behaviors are routinely pathologized and treated as grotesquely criminal, I am reminded of Paglia's words, “The more nature is beaten back in the west, the more the femme fatale reappears, as a return of the repressed. She is the spectre of the West's bad conscience about nature. She is the moral ambiguity of nature, a malevolent moon that keeps breaking through our fog of hopeful sentiment.” In a world where the dumb fictional dragon bitch of Game of Thrones is celebrated as a hero among grown wine-addled women, a sapless modern witch like Elizabeth Warren is a serious presidential candidate, and a half-retarded autist-cum-downsie like Greta Thunberg is taken seriously by the U.N., a classic femme fatale like the one portrayed by Simone Simon seems almost refreshing. Luckily, as Paglia also notes, “Eroticism is mystique; that is, the aura of emotion and imagination around sex. It cannot be ‘fixed’ by codes of social or moral convenience, whether from the political left or right. For nature's fascism is greater than that of any society.” After all, there will always be femme fatales like the one featured in La Bête Humaine, but Warren and Thunberg are special aberrations that come with an absurdly abnormal repressed society of the morally and culturally inverted sort where the complete transvaluation of values has made the tranny queen and the culture-distorting ex-ghetto-dweller king.  In that sense, it is better to become a happy victim of an old school femme fatale like Simon than live in a world where fecund-free feminist feces like Ghostbusters (2016) exists.

-Ty E

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