La Nuit du Carrefour (Night at the Crossroads), 1932
Dir: Jean Renoir
Say what you will about the sons of great fathers never really being able to match their sires (sorry Jacob Dylan), but Jean Renoir certainly busts that up big time. It's hard to tell if Jean was at all influenced by his father's, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, paintings, but there is sort of an impressionist messiness to all of his films. In Night at the Crossroads, that messiness along with the atmospheric French country-side and mysterious path that Renoir sends you down to get to the end make this a detective film worth seeking out.
I will give this film props simply for besting me. I usually pride myself in being able to figure things out in a film, but maybe that's because most people watching movies are idiots and most films aren't hard to pick. By the end of this though, you know you've been thinking about the wrong thing, 'cause "whodunnit?" ain't what it's about. A Parisian detective (Pierre Renoir, Jean's older brother) is sent to the suburbs to investigate the death of a jewel thief. Cars have ended up in different garages and the main suspect ends up being a Danish transplant (Georges Koudria) who lives with his very strange sister (Winna Winifried). Words can’t really do justice to Winna’s strangeness in this: her accent (a lot of people think it’s more English than Danish), the baby-talk delivery (abruptly dropped when her secret comes out), the languid lounging with the impossibly long and voluptuous body (and the great outfits). Her performance really does throw you off track, if maybe hinting at a few things.
I really don't want to talk too much about the narrative in case you ever watch it, so let's talk about production value. At first glance it may seem pretty amateurish, but that would not take into consideration what Renoir was trying to do with the look of his film, "I tried to give you the feeling of mud sticking to your feet, and of fog obscuring your sight." Mystery. Uncertainty. The wall between us and what we can't know. A garage worker walking through a field with a shotgun, fog billowing everywhere. Is he just hunting? Where was that gun-shot from (oh yeah, Renoir gets sound, especailly off-screen)? How close to the chest are all of these guys playing their cards? It can't be that simple? Can it (It isn't)?