Monday, October 30, 2017

#612: Boudu Saved from Drowning

Directed by: JEAN RENOIR
1932, TSPDT Rank #555

Boudu Saved from Drowning, one of Jean Renoir's early sound films, shows the master French director at his most anarchic. He is aided in his all-out skewering of 1930s French bourgeoisie by Michel Simon, the larger than life actor who most modern cinephiles will know best as Père Jules in Jean Vigo's L'Atalante, as well as the humiliated painter Maurice Legrand in Renoir's second sound film, La chienne. In this film, Simon is Boudu, a shambling wreck of a tramp who is rescued from attempted suicide by a middle-class bookseller named named Lestingois. But instead of being grateful to his savior and benefactor, Boudu scorns Lestingois' condescending hospitality and wreaks havoc upon his home in a satirical farce which leaves none of its characters unscathed.

A notoriously difficult actor to work with, Simon once stated that Renoir was one of only three directors that understood him (the other two being Jean Vigo and Sacha Guitry). Boudu was clearly an equal collaboration between the two - Simon created the singular title character (with large doses of inspiration taken from his own personality) and Renoir contributed the poetic visuals and light narrative flow, which dull the edges of the film's razor-sharp satire somewhat... at least for modern audiences. Contemporary French audiences were less subdued by the finer points of Renoir's craft, becoming so scandalized by Boudu's complete disregard for bourgeois order that the police were called in to shut the film down within three days of its premiere.

While Boudu may have lost the incendiary power that it once had, it still gives viewers today a unique glimpse of Michel Simon firing on all cylinders and Jean Renoir beginning to demonstrate his mastery within the sound medium. It's a buoyant and enjoyable film, even if Renoir doesn't give us any easy answers about the characters and their moral standing - instead rendering conventional morality meaningless and encouraging us as viewers to find our way without it.

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