Like rivers or the moment to come just after this moment, you can't step into the same Jean Renoir film twice. Whether the release of this restoration marks your first or your 50th time seeing The Crime of Monsieur Lange -- the master's 1936 collectivist lulu and certainly the most warmly humane film ever made about killing your boss -- its glittering bustle of motion and character always offers new and piercing details. What, this time, will prick you?
Renoir collaborated on the story with the agitprop Left Bank theater troupe First Groupe Octobre, shaping a satiric romance in which skinflint magazine publisher Batala (an inventively detestable Jules Berry) is monstrous to his employees, especially women, whom he paws at relentlessly. Offsetting his horribleness: The doughty proletariat inhabiting the flats around his offices, a spirited coterie of janitors and laundry workers, innkeepers and typesetters, street kids and sex workers, and one Monsieur Lange (Rene Lefevre). He is the dream-struck author of pulp westerns who, thanks to a nasty turn of Batala's fortunes, suddenly sees his work at last published. But then Batala, of course, screws him.
Whirling around this comic drama are briskly amusing affairs of the heart. Renoir and his crew famously emphasize this through their technical innovations: The camera roves with rare freedom across a lavish courtyard set, eyeing the life layered all around it with persuasive urban density, and several sequences broke new ground in depth of field photography. As in Renoir's mature masterpieces, the prevailing spirit is of a brilliantly controlled spontaneity, a breezy sublimity, that sense that any character can vault into the frame at any time and push the story someplace new yet perfect.