The Testament of Dr. Cordelier | Chicago Reader

The Testament of Dr. Cordelier

Jean Renoir's uncharacteristic free adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the great Jean-Louis Barrault (1959). Shot in black and white for French TV, this oddball horror comedy allowed Renoir to experiment with TV techniques, using multiple cameras and microphones to follow his actors from different angles at the same time. Barrault's performance in the title role—a retiring middle-class professor who, after inadverently releasing the fury of his own id, delights in such activities as abusing cripples on the street—is one of the most sublime, disturbingly funny, and complex actorly creations ever committed to film, and it illuminates many corners of Renoir's oeuvre in provocative ways: Cordelier's shambling walk can be traced all the way back to Michel Simon's Boudu, and, as Dave Kehr and French critic Jean Douchet have noted, the film is the dark mirror of the Dionysian fantasy of Picnic on the Grass, made the same year; here liberation from repression leads to nightmare rather than utopia.

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