The Lower Depths (1936 film)

Last updated
The Lower Depths
Les bas fonds.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written byScreenplay:
Yevgeni Zamyatin
Jacques Companéez
Jean Renoir
Charles Spaak
Based onPlay:
Maxim Gorky
Produced by Alexandre Kamenka
Starring Jean Gabin
Suzy Prim
Louis Jouvet
Cinematography Fédote Bourgasoff
Edited by Marguerite Renoir
Music by Jean Wiener
Films Albatros
Distributed byGaumont-Franco Film-Aubert
Release dates
11 December 1936 (France)
10 September 1937 (US)
Running time
95 minutes

The Lower Depths (French : Les Bas-fonds) is a 1936 French drama film directed by Jean Renoir, based on the 1902 play of the same title by Maxim Gorky. Its scenes contrast the life of the upper and lower classes to comedic effect.


The film is an example of the poetic realism.[ citation needed ] It received the first Louis Delluc Prize in 1937. [1] [2] The National Board of Review in the United States considered it a Top Ten Foreign Film for 1937. [3]


A wealthy baron (Jouvet) becomes bankrupt through gambling. Contemplating suicide, he finds his gun missing and confronts the thief Pépel (Gabin) who plans to rob him. Instead they share "a drink between colleagues" in a scene played as light comedy and become friends. The baron allows Pépel to leave with a bronze sculpture. Creditors seize the baron's household furnishings. The Baron tells his servant Félix that he hopes all that Félix has stolen from him will cover his unpaid wages, to which Félix agrees. Pépel is arrested for stealing the bronze. Pépel jokes with the police until the baron arrives to identify him as a "dear friend". The story shifts to life in the slums, where men argue at cards. They mock a woman who reads romantic tales, and many individuals have brief character portraits. The baron arrives to become a lodger in the slums and Pépel sets him up with a bed. The baron joins the card game.

The police inspector meets with the slum landlord Kostylev and eyes his wife's sister Natasha. Pépel speaks with Vassilissa, regretting he never loved her but remembering their good times. She wants him to kill her husband, the landlord, who is old and mean. A scene of mourning for a woman who has died follows, with fatalistic comments from the neighbors. Pépel tells Natasha she should leave with him, but she says she'll leave for a man with a job, not a thief like him. Vassilissa finds them speaking and is jealous. The woman who reads romances recounts them to the baron and Natasha as if they were her own adventures. The police inspector tells the landlord an inspection has been ordered. Trying to devise a way to bribe him, the landlord and his wife suggest her sister Natasha. Vassilissa persuades Natasha to serve the inspector tea, though Natasha has declared he disgusts her. The inspector invites Natasha on a date and she cries, but he promises her a better life.

Pépel and the baron discuss life along the river bank. Pépel believes only leaving with Natasha could save him from going to prison one day like his father before him. The inspector and Natasha dine alone indoors while other couples dine outdoors as a band plays. She resists his advances. Those partying outside include Pépel, pursued by Vassilissa. She tells him Natasha is not the innocent dreamer he imagines. Pépel find Natasha drunkenly enjoying the inspector's company. The men fight and Pépel leads Natasha away as the inspector cries for help. Pépel and Natasha confess their love.

Kostylev and Vassilissa insist Natasha make up with the inspector. They beat her and the whole neighborhood listens. Pépel intervenes and soon all the lodgers join him in attacking their hated landlord. The fight ends with Kostylev dead, though no one appears responsible. Vassilissa denounces Pépel to the police as a murderer. The baron tells them it was a brawl and everyone is guilty. Others say how they participated and that "the lower depths killed him". The police find Pépel comforting Natasha and lead him away.

In an epilogue, Vassilissa leaves the slum, Natasha brings Pépel home from prison, and the slum's strangest resident, a combination madman and drunkard called "the actor", commits suicide. Natasha and Pépel take to the road with just a few possessions.



Writing for Night and Day in 1937, Graham Greene gave the film a mild mixed review. Describing the film as "a slow agreeable undistinguished picture", Green finds the production "oddly stagy and unconvincing" in its depiction of poverty. [4]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>La Grande Illusion</i> 1937 French film directed by Jean Renoir

La Grande Illusion is a 1937 French war film directed by Jean Renoir, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Spaak. The story concerns class relationships among a small group of French officers who are prisoners of war during World War I and are plotting an escape. The title of the film comes from the 1909 book The Great Illusion by British journalist Norman Angell, which argued that war is futile because of the common economic interests of all European nations. The perspective of the film is generously humanistic to its characters of various nationalities.

Jean Renoir French film director and screenwriter (1894–1979)

Jean Renoir was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer and author. As a film director and actor, he made more than forty films from the silent era to the end of the 1960s. His films La Grande Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) are often cited by critics as among the greatest films ever made. He was ranked by the BFI's Sight & Sound poll of critics in 2002 as the fourth greatest director of all time. Among numerous honours accrued during his lifetime, he received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1975 for his contribution to the motion picture industry. Renoir was the son of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He was one of the first filmmakers to be known as an auteur.

<i>The Lower Depths</i> Play by Maxim Gorky

The Lower Depths is a play by Russian dramatist Maxim Gorky written in 1902 and produced by the Moscow Arts Theatre on December 18, 1902 under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski. It became his first major success, and a hallmark of Russian social realism. The play depicts a group of impoverished Russians living in a shelter near the Volga.

Louis Jouvet French actor

Jules Eugène Louis Jouvet was a French actor, theatre director and filmmaker.

Jean Gabin French actor

Jean Gabin was a French actor and singer. Considered a key figure in French cinema, he starred in several classic films including Pépé le Moko (1937), La grande illusion (1937), Le Quai des brumes (1938), La bête humaine (1938), Le jour se lève (1939), and Le plaisir (1952). During his career he had twice won both the Silver Bear for Best Actor from the Berlin International Film Festival and the Volpi Cup for Best Actor from the Venice Film Festival respectively. Gabin was made a member of the Légion d'honneur in recognition of the important role he played in French cinema.

Poetic realism was a film movement in France of the 1930s. More a tendency than a movement, poetic realism is not strongly unified like Soviet montage or French Impressionism but were individuals who created this lyrical style. Its leading filmmakers were Pierre Chenal, Jean Vigo, Julien Duvivier, Marcel Carné, and, perhaps the movement's most significant director, Jean Renoir. Renoir made a wide variety of films some influenced by the leftist Popular Front group and even a lyrical short feature film. Frequent stars of these films were Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Simone Signoret, and Michèle Morgan.

<i>Les Misérables</i> (1998 film) 1998 film

Les Misérables is a 1998 film adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name, directed by Bille August. It stars Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes.

Julien Duvivier French film director and screenwriter

Julien Duvivier was a French film director and screenwriter. He was prominent in French cinema in the years 1930–1960. Amongst his most original films, chiefly notable are La Bandera, Pépé le Moko, Little World of Don Camillo, Panique, Voici le temps des assassins and Marianne de ma jeunesse.

<i>Pépé le Moko</i> 1937 film

Pépé le Moko is a 1937 French film directed by Julien Duvivier starring Jean Gabin, based on a novel of the same name by Henri La Barthe and with sets by Jacques Krauss. An example of the 1930s French movement known as poetic realism, it recounts the trapping of a gangster on the run in Algiers, who believes that he is safe from arrest in the Casbah.

<i>Quai des Orfèvres</i> 1947 French film

Quai des Orfèvres is a 1947 French police procedural drama film based on the book Légitime défense by Stanislas-Andre Steeman. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot the film stars Suzy Delair as Jenny Lamour, Bernard Blier as Maurice Martineau, Louis Jouvet as Inspector Antoine and Simone Renant as Dora.

<i>French Cancan</i> 1954 film by Jean Renoir

French Cancan is a 1955 French-Italian musical film written and directed by Jean Renoir and starring Jean Gabin and Francoise Arnoul. Where Renoir's previous film Le Carosse d’or had celebrated the 18th-century Italian commedia dell’arte, this work is a homage to the Parisian café-concert of the 19th century with its popular singers and dancers. Visually, the film evokes the paintings of Edgar Degas and the Impressionists, including his own father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It also marked his return to France and to French cinema after an exile that began in 1940.

<i>La Bête Humaine</i> (film) 1938 French film

La Bête Humaine is a 1938 French film directed by Jean Renoir, with cinematography by Curt Courant. The picture features Jean Gabin and Simone Simon, and is loosely based on the 1890 novel La Bête humaine by Émile Zola.

<i>Bizarre, Bizarre</i> 1937 film by Marcel Carné

Bizarre, Bizarre is a 1937 French comedy film directed by Marcel Carné. It is based on the 1912 novel His First Offence by J. Storer Clouston.

<i>La Bandera</i> (film) 1935 French film

La Bandera is a 1935 French drama film directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Annabella, Jean Gabin and Robert Le Vigan. It was based on the 1931 novel La Bandera by Pierre Mac Orlan. After committing a brutal murder in Paris, a Frenchman flees to Barcelona where he enlists in the Spanish Foreign Legion. He is sent to fight in Morocco where he unexpectedly bonds with his comrades and marries a local woman before his past begins to catch up with him. Like Duvivier's other works of the period, the film is infused with poetic realism.

<i>Hôtel du Nord</i> 1938 film directed by Marcel Carné

Hôtel du Nord is a 1938 French drama film directed by Marcel Carné that stars Arletty, Louis Jouvet, Annabella, and Jean-Pierre Aumont. It tells the story of two couples in Paris, one being a prostitute and her pimp and the other two young lovers without regular jobs. A work of poetic realism, cinematography, music, and dialogue add a poetic dimension to the lives and surroundings of working-class people.

<i>Coral Reefs</i> (film) 1939 German film

Coral Reefs is a 1939 French-language adventure film made in Germany. Directed by Maurice Gleize, the screenplay was written by Charles Spaak, based on a novel by Jean Martet. The film stars Jean Gabin, Michèle Morgan, and Pierre Renoir. It tells the story of a wanderer in Australia who kills a man in a fight and goes on the run. He meets a girl who is hiding in the wilds and the two fall in love, but they are pursued by a determined police detective.

Kisse Pyaar Karoon is a 2009 Indian comedy film directed by Ajay Chandok. The film stars Arshad Warsi, Aashish Chaudhary and Yash Tonk.

<i>La Horse</i> 1970 French film

La Horse is a 1970 French-language thriller directed by Pierre Granier-Deferre and based on Michel Lambesc's novel of the same name.

Pasha is a 1968 French crime film directed by Georges Lautner that stars Jean Gabin and Dany Carrel and is based on the novel Pouce! by Jean Laborde. It tells the story of a senior Paris policeman pursuing a ruthless killer.

<i>Ajeeb Daastaans</i> 2021 Indian film

Ajeeb Daastaans is a Hindi-language anthology film, consisting of four short film segments directed by Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta, Neeraj Ghaywan and Kayoze Irani. The film is produced by Karan Johar and Netflix.


  1. Célia Bertin, Jean Renoir (1976), p. 132
  2. Faulkner, Christopher (1979). Jean Renoir, a guide to references and resources. Boston, Mass: G.K. Hall & Company. p. 16.
  3. Archived May 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  4. Greene, Graham (9 December 1937). "Un Carnet de Bal/Underworld". Night and Day . (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. pp. 184–185. ISBN   0192812866.)