In the '30s, Jean Renoir hit the peak of his form. From 1932 to 1939, he turned out a string of masterpieces with scarcely a dud among them - and here, for the delectation of cineastes everywhere, we have three of the very finest.
Le Crime De Monsieur Lange (1936) celebrates the left-wing ideals of the Popular Front in warm, witty and gregarious fashion. The politics, however, never manage to interfere with the comedy-drama of a group of employees who band together to run a publishing house when their boss (Jules Berry, one of the all-time great smooth villains) absconds with all the company cash.
"The villain is the war," said Renoir of 1937's La Grande Illusion. Set in a German POW camp during World War One, the film was the director's passionate cry for both sanity and humanist ideals in the face of the coming conflict. Not only that, but it also gives Jean Gabin, as a working-class French army officer, one of his supreme roles.
Gabin stars again in La Bête Humaine (1938) as a homicidal train driver, cursed - according to the Émile Zola novel on which the film is based - by a genetic inheritance of tainted blood. This is dark, thunderous melodrama, with mighty steam trains that almost steal the movie. Watch and marvel.