La bête humaine (1938)
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Jean Renoir creates a contained noir thriller out of Emile Zola's novel, La bête humaine, in his 1938 film adaptation, set in the (then) present day as opposed to the end of the 19th Century. It is the story of a jealous railway employee who kills a man, and the train engineer who looks the other way and winds up falling in love with the murderer's wife. If my English-speaking readers don't know Zola, think of him as Steinbeck's French precursor, and so it is impossible for the characters to escape their class/family-mandated destinies, no matter how hard they try. Inevitability drives this well-acted melodrama. The train is, in fact, more than a simple backdrop, but a symbol of Zola's brand of literary naturalism. It goes back and forth between two places, but can never deviate from its tracks. The film's characters are thus doomed to repeat the history they want to escape from, and touchingly, they know it.
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In 9 official lists
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This movie ranks #9 in François Truffaut's The Films in My Life
This movie ranks #86 in Time Out's 1000 Films to Change Your Life
This movie ranks #89 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #131 in BFI's 360 Classic Feature Films Project
This movie ranks #183 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #346 in The Criterion Collection
This movie ranks #411 in TSPDT's 1,000 Noir Films
This movie ranks #676 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time
This movie ranks #879 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films