One of cinema's immortal, and most provocative, comedies.
darragh o'donoghue | 11/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The opening scenes of 'Boudu Saved from drowning' contrast the urbane bookseller Lestingois with the hirsute titular tramp. The former presides over a haven of super-civilisation on the banks of the Seine, surrounded by rare books, paintings, statues, the best that the best minds have thought and created. he is using the skill absorbed from this culture, however, to beguile his impressionable mistress, the young maid Anne-Marie - in this case classical rhetoric not only disguising basic natural urges, but actually replacing them, Lestingois' appetite more evident that his capabilities. Boudu, on the other hand, is first seen in a park, caressing his dog, singing snatches of song, linked to the natural and populist. These two collide when Lestingois rescues a suicidal Boudu, and invites him into his home, where he is soon smashing plates, smearing shoe polish over the satin and spiiting in rare Balzac novels. The movement of the film seems to be towards the greater bourgeoisification of Boudu - new clothes, Samsonian hair cut, ennobling by money and marriage. But the film actually revolves around sex. The film starts with a Greek tableau of Pan chasing a nymph, cut to Lestingois and Anne-Marie. Boudu begins replacing his benefactor, not by accumulating bourgeois habits, but by displaying the sexual prowess the self-styled Priapus Lestingois lacks (the latter has no children).70 years on, 'Boudu' remains a shockingly funny comedy, provocatively hostile to the soul-stultifying deceptions, compromises and resignations of the bourgoisie. If this makes the film sound aridly polemical, than you don't know Renoir - the slouchy, amused Lestingois is the most sympathetic character in the movie, cultured, tolerant, benevolent - his crime, if you like, it the bourgeois expectation that the rescued Boudu should be grateful and hence dependent. Even the women reveal depths beyond the initial caricatures - Mme Lestingois is given a beautiful epiphany, lying dejected on her bed, suddenly awoken by street music, taken back somewhere we've no access to. Concepts of death and rebirth, heaven and hell, destruction and continuity recur, filtered through the overarching metaphor of the river.The film is a strange mixture of the antique and the modern. The documentary-like aspects of the film, the real-location shooting of pre-war Paris, its parks, cafes, pageants, music, rivers, boats etc., are ironically the most 'dated', in the sense that they capture a world long since vanished. The theatrical artificality of the film, by contrast, is the clue to its modernity - the division of the narrative into music-signalled acts; the farce-like plot; the complex composition of domestic and exterior space. The film's motifs revolve around spectators looking at unfolding dramas, windows framing action and dividing characters from life. There is a remarkable sequence in the park, where a plein-air location is turned into a vast, endless stage set, through which characters wander in and out. Far from restricting the cinematic quality of the film, this theatricality liberates it, opening up the rigidity of the frame, of one viewpoint, intimating whole worlds beyond it. These tensions - between civilisation and nature, high and popular culture, sympathy and satire, ancient and modern, documentary and theatre - result in one of Renoir's, and cinema's, greatest films."
Sophisticated And Warm, An Excellent Comedy By Jean Renoir
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 09/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Turning off the water in the sink is as alien an idea to Boudu as not spitting on the dining room rug. Watching him try to clean bootblack from his hands is to watch the destruction of a kitchen. He's as oblivious to others as a strong wind blowing through a garden. One critic said the character of Boudu was like a ball in a pinball machine. Boudu (Michel Simon) is a scruffy tramp who jumps off a bridge in Paris when he loses his dog. Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval) is a chubby, middle-aged bookseller, very much a member of the bourgeoisie, who rushes out of his shop, leaps into the river, saves Boudu and takes him into his home. Lestingois has a wife who is proper and cool. He employs a maid who is lusty and accommodating. Boudu will change their lives.
Boudu is an anarchic force of nature, stuffing his sardine dinner into his mouth with his hands and spitting his wine onto the floor. For Lestingois, who at first is pleased with himself for his heroism and with taking in such a specimen of the lower class, life becomes complicated and frustrating. He enjoys his trysts with the maid, Anne-Marie, but he recognizes he's getting a bit old. "She's charming," he says, "but last night I fell asleep before I could join her. No doubt about it, I'm growing old. My pipes are weary, and soon some shepherd will lure her with his youthful flute." Boudu, however, soon wearies of sleeping in a bed and takes to sleeping in the hall, next to Anne-Marie's door. "I get bored all alone in my room," Anne Marie tells Lestingois. "I'm not exactly jumping for joy in my room, either," he says. "Are you sorry you saved him?" she asks. "At night, I am."
Madame Lestingois, however, once Boudu is convinced to get a haircut and wear a proper suit, may not be quite the piece of ice she appears to be. When Boudu has the opportunity to closely inspect a small birthmark on Madame Lestingois' chest, well, it's not long before Madame Lestingois hears trumpets playing.
Boudu remains the same, wrapped up in his own world and with his own behavior, refusing a favor, turning back an innocent inquiry, tickling the bottom of Anne Marie, enjoying Madame Lestingois, making himself obliviously at home with Edouard Lestingois. He's a natural force that can't be controlled and, for some, barely endured. By the end of the movie it appears, however, that a lottery ticket and the prospect of lustful marriage to Anne Marie may finally tame Boudu. "For once, both modern morals and the laws of nature are satisfied," says a member of the wedding party. Fortunately, a lily floating on the river and a bad sense of balance bring Boudu back the life he had. He may have been saved from drowning at the start of the movie, but he's saved from bourgeois respectability at the end.
This is a marvelously sophisticated and warm comedy. Everybody has their foibles exposed and no one really gets hurt. Michel Simon as Boudu is simply unique. "I watch Boudu often," says Jean Renoir in a filmed introduction to the movie, "not because I revel in contemplation of my past work, but simply because of Michel Simon." Charles Granval as Lestingois is just about as good.
The Criterion DVD presentation is first rate. There are several extras which are interesting and informative, including an interview made 35 years later with Renoir and Simon discussing the movie."
Thanks Again Criterion
C. Rubin | San Leandro, CA | 08/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been waiting for the DVD releases of the early 1930s Renoir films. As is standard for Criterion, the print quality of this release is beautiful and the extras are nice, especially the footage of Renoir, and Renoir with Simon, discussing the film. Great DVD release for Renoir and Simon fans; hopefully 'La Chienne' will follow soon."
Civilization and Its Discontents
Mark Pruett | 06/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING, Renoir's satire is never cruel. He shows affection for all of his silly characters, and no one escapes a ribbing.
Boudu is pure id (imagine Walt Whitman on a three-day bender), but he has no real malice toward anyone. Lestingois, the good citizen who takes him in, is driven by a sincere but utterly self-serving sense of compassion. He thinks he can bring this wild animal into his house and groom and curry him until he personifies the bookseller's own generosity. And he believes he can do this without any noticeable disruption in his own carefully ordered universe. Result: Boudu dutifully applies black polish to his shoes, then wipes off the excess with the aid of a white bedspread. At every turn, china shop meets bull. It's lovely."