Dir: Akira Kurosawa (Harakiri; The Bad Sleep Well; Kagemusha; Ikiru)
A oft flimed play from Maxim Gorky, the Lower Depths examines the dregs of society: bums, gamblers, drunks, thieves, the loveless, the wandering, the sick. Their lives are cyclical dramas of fatalistic recognition of their lot, then dreams, then solace in hedonism. The pressing cruelty of poverty hangs over them all, and any attempts at escape are inevitably tragic.
Kurosawa retains the dramatic feel of the play, essentially using one room for the entire film, with characters coming in and out in different states of sobriety. The pace is almost maddeningly slow, with speech after speech developing the themes. The film requires quite an investment of intellectual energy, since plot is thin and one of the main points of the film is the relentless monotony of the lives of those who have abandoned ambition or self improvement.
Toshiro Mifune is a thief who has fallen in love with the sister-in-law of the oppressive landlord of this boarding house. The mistress of the house is jealous, and devises a Double Indemnity like plot to off her husband. This is all rather secondary, just one personal narrative in a film dominated by the supporting actors and an ensemble story.
This is certainly a love it or hate it movie, with the pace even getting to this viewer at times. This is Russian literature at its bleakest, with no escape from the inevitability of pain and suffering. If one can stomach the subject matter, Kurosawa has certainly given room for his stable of actors to embody the play.
This film stands alone on the source material. I'm not sure there is a ton of value added here from AK. But not messing up an already good thing is often harded that it sounds. Jean Renoir also made a version of this play; I will be interested to see how the two compare.