The Little Match Girl

La Petite Marchande d’allumettes

Jean Renoir, France, 1928


The scene opens with an establishing shot of a snow-covered street in the heart of a city, with a luxury car and people warmly dressed in their finery. The little match girl is clearly not attired well enough for this level of cold. The rich folk make their way into a tea room, whose windows are all frosted, due to the great difference in temperature between the inside and out. There is no way that the little match girl would ever be allowed to set foot in the tea room. Her curiosity makes her rub away at the frost to see inside. What she sees is waitresses bringing cakes to the rich clients.

Renoir makes the most of the frost, which is obviously stage frost and not the real thing, allowing him to make some really rather beautiful shots, using the interplay between soft and hard edged focus, allowing him to focus on individual elements floating around in the interior, thanks to the frosty stencil. Renoir then flips the camera’s position, placing on the inside of the window, separating the inside from the outside, rich and poor, hot and cold, abundance and scarcity. He then cuts to a beautiful close up of the little match girl, framed by the shape of the window, whose form is blurred in an artistic haze of frost.

Renoir made use of the frost and cold to allow him to debate social injustice, and to make a series of beautiful images.