Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1936: Jean Gabin in The Lower Depths

Jean Gabin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Pepel Wasska in The Lower Depths.

The Lower Depths is Jean Renoir's effective adaptation of the play about the lives of the denizens of a slum.

The Lower Depths was later adapted by another great director Akira Kurosawa in 1957. The two versions differ greatly in terms of the general tone as well as the focus. Where Kurosawa made it a truly ensemble piece where all the various characters were more or less just as important, Renoir's version tightens the focus upon the thief living in the slum. The other characters are still there, but only have brief moments that are intertwined around the story of the thief Pepel played by Gabin. Again this character is played by the biggest star in the film, as Toshiro Mifune went on to play the character in Kurosawa's version. Gabin's depiction differs quite bit from Mifune, which can be seen from the earliest scenes. Mifune played it as though his thief was really just part of the crowd, that's not quite the case for Gabin's performance. Gabin gives the thief more overt of a style as a thief as he plays the part with a certain suaveness in the way he moves. He's not a low down dirty thief as Mifune played, rather Gabin plays him as a much more of the romanticized sort of thief. Gabin plays the part with a distinct smoothness in his physical manner as well as the way in which he speaks.

Gabin's approach works well with Renoir's approach for the material which is taking a bit of a lighter touch to the material. One of the aspects of this version is that the thief is made essentially to be the protagonist, which he's not in Kurosawa's, and it makes sense for him to be a made more likable do to that. Gabin is very charming here in portraying the thief with a very specific sort of cool that works also to portray the thief as someone who might live in the slum but never intends to be part of it. In addition with the possible murder plot involving the married couple and the thief is handled very differently here. Gabin very specifically shows that Pepel never even gives a second thought to being a murder, and instead plays his scenes with the wife a whole lot differently as well. Gabin does not show any true affection or desire to her but rather just Pepel lightly stringing her along in order for him to improve his circumstances by using her husband as a fence for stolen goods. This as well his thieving is technically amoral, but Gabin is able to get around this by suggesting not even the slightest violent urge in Pepel's heart.

With this different intent in mind Gabin makes Pepel a very endearing thief to watch apply his trade, especially when he goes to rob a baron, the baron does not mind because he has lost everything anyways. Instead they strike up a friendship in the night and Gabin makes this quite believable through just how much charisma he brings to the part. The scene the two share together is rather delightful as Gabin wins him over just as he seems to wins almost everyone over including the audience. Of course the murder plot is still hanging overhead in a way, even if Pepel wants nothing to do with it. This becomes all the more complicated when it becomes obvious to the wife that Pepel is far more interested in her husband's sister Natascha, despite her being quite critical of Pepel's choice of profession. Gabin is very good in the scenes between Pepel and Natascha as he so well reflects essentially the admiration in Pepel for Natashca because of her moral code. Gabin brings a genuine sweetness in these scenes and makes the romance feel natural.

Not everything goes to plan though as eventually a death does occur although in no way is it a murder even though Pepel is technically involved. Gabin is good in this scene though as he in no way expresses any other sort of character change in Pepel just rather plays in an authentic gut sort of reaction of the moment. Unlike the Kurosawa version this film is given much more of an happy ending, even though both do end with a suicide, and this version does not have the darkly funny punchline, but I'm getting off track. This version though does let the thief go so to speak as the thief is allowed to escape the suffering of the lower depths, and is given a far less rough treatment than Mifune's thief. This ending very well might not have worked as it technically can be seen as cheapening the tone of the story. Gabin manages to earn it though simply because he makes Pepel someone you do want to see escape his assumed fate. His performance works his way through any possible problems by charming his way through to the point that you simply want to see the thief walk away into the sunset with the woman he loves.

8 comments:

luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & Thoughts on Prim and Jouvet.

RatedRStar & GDSAO: Have you seen The Rules Of The Game (1939), if so, what are your ratings & thoughts on the cast.

Anonymous said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts on Meryl Streep in Out of Africa and Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse?

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Luke: No, unfortunately, I really should though, to fill out my 1939 viewings list.

Just watched Testament of Youth. An excellent, admirably restraint telling of a very compelling story, its focus wavers a bit in the middle as it tries to string together a little too much but overall, a pretty great film.

Vikander-5 (if she doesn't get an Oscar nomination for anything this year, there is no justice in this world. And most likely, there won't. But she's amazing here)
Harrington-4 (surprise, surprise, he's not only convincingly heroic but also surprisingly Charlie Cox-esque charming, and deeply moving in his war scenes)
Morgan-4 (also very good, and brings genuine power to his physical degradation)
Egerton-3.5 (much better here than he was in Kingsman)
West-3.5 (limited role but powerful with what he was given)
Watson-2.5 (unfortunately a hopelessly thankless role)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Who are everyone's favourite up-and-coming actors and actresses, I think Vikander is officially in my top 5 now as I've liked to loved her in everything I've seen her in (Testament of Youth, Ex Machina, Anna Karenina, Pure, and by all accounts she's great in A Royal Affair too)

Domhnall Gleeson
True Grit (3.5)
Dredd (3)
Anna Karenina (4.5)
About Time (4.5)
Frank (4)
Calvary (4, verging on a 4.5)
Ex Machina (4.5, moved up on re-watch)

Alicia Vikander
Pure (4)
Anna Karenina (4)
Ex Machina (4.5, verging on a 5)
Testament of Youth(5)

Ben Whishaw
My Brother Tom (4.5)
Perfume (4)
Layer Cake (3)
I'm Not There (3.5)
Brideshead Revisited (4)
Bright Star (5)
The Tempest (4)
Skyfall (4)
Cloud Atlas (5)
Paddington (4.5)

Matthias Schoenaerts
Bullhead (4.5)
Rust and Bone (4.5)
Blood Ties (4)
The Drop (4.5)
Far From the Madding Crowd (5)

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Those 4 and Tom Hiddleston.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your Rating & Thoughts on Sue Lyon in Lolita.

luke higham said...

Louis: Plus, Laura Dern and Hope Lange in Blue Velvet.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Prim - 4(She's pretty good in portraying the nastiness of her character as she just exudes an unabashed desire toward Gabin, while being quite uncouth in her portrayal of her relationship with her husband. She's rather good here in being devious in a way quite fitting to her character's surroundings)

I'll save Jouvet for the moment.

A better time to ask about Lyon won't be too far away. I could have sworn I gave my thoughts on Dern and Lange was fine but really did not have much to do.

Anonymous:

Streep - 3.5(I thought she was fine enough here for the most part, and I certainly don't mind her accent as some do. My main problem is that Redford is such a block of wood here that she can't make anything happen with him. I do like her sort of passive aggressive exchanges with Brandauer though, and their relationship is far more interesting)

Sondergaard - 4(She was a master of that evil stare and she makes good use of it in the film. Her appearances are somewhat sporadic but she's enjoyable devious whenever she does appear)