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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Thursday, December 6, 2012
7:00 p.m. Crime and Punishment
Pierre Chenal (France, 1935)

Imported 35mm Print!

(Crime et châtiment). With its dark focus on a dispirited individual, Pierre Chenal’s version of Crime and Punishment has its place in the poetic fatalism of the thirties French cinema. But it also reveals the strong influence of German Expressionism. The grim yellow walls that defined Raskolnikov’s world—and his alienation—in the novel are translated into black-and-white by the use of distorted sets and radical camera angles. A lingering camera emphasizes the intensity of Pierre Blanchar’s rendition of the impoverished student, whose tortured isolation is best revealed in the briefest moments of physical eccentricity. Harry Baur as Inspector Porfiry dominates the second half of the film; Graham Greene described his performance as “the finest in the cinema this year, with his tortoise movements, his streak of cruelty, his terrible good humor.” The screenplay by novelist Marcel Ayme is concise and powerful, and the original score by Arthur Honegger accents the dramatic mood, which is far more European than it is Russian.

• Written by Marcel Aymé, based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Photographed by Joseph-Louis Mundviller. With Harry Baur, Pierre Blanchar, Madeleine Ozeray, Lucienne Le Marchand. (103 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From BFI/NFTVA)