Edward Karam
June 25, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Lower Depths

Current Status
In Season
Bokuzen Hidari, Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada
Akira Kurosawa

We gave it an A

Using Maxim Gorky’s play about life among the destitute of society as their source, two directors — Akira Kurosawa and Jean Renoir — come up with sharply different takes in a new Criterion set. Although Kurosawa moves the action to early-19th-century Japan for his ensemble portrait, he adheres closely to Gorky, evoking the squalor and cruelty with finely drawn portraits: a brooding Toshiro Mifune as the thief in love with the younger sister of his landlady (and ex-paramour) and a withered, grinning Bokuzen Hidari as an old holy man. Renoir’s well-coiffed, working-class ”miserables,” still squabble ferociously, but the story is a male-bonding vehicle for his two stars: Jean Gabin, the thief, teaching Louis Jouvet, the urbane impoverished gambler, the pleasures of lying in the grass. In the upbeat finale — not Gorky’s — Gabin and the girl (Junie Astor) hit the road like Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert did two years earlier in ”It Happened One Night.”

EXTRAS A superb commentary by Kurosawa expert Donald Richie and a making-of doc; a short intro from Renoir.

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