A widely praised comedy classic, I'm not as fond of Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932) as a French film fan is supposed to be. Yet like select boring film by Ozu or Bergman, the beauty of Jean Renoir's creation is obvious even if the story & characters are not to my personal liking.
Boudu is a homeless tramp whose dog runs off, so he decides to commit suicide, perhaps less from depression over loss of the dog than from no longer having the responsibility to keep living for the dog's sake. An upper middleclass gentleman leaps in the river to save Boudu, while hundreds of folks along the bridge & prominade look on, impressed that someone of their class would behave heroically to save someone of no consequence, as would none of these many onlookers.
Ungrateful Boudu is annoyed by the interferance & promises to finish his intent as soon as no one's watching. The gentleman bookseller Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), taking responsibility for the life he saved, takes the tramp in, dresses him, tries to teach him manners.
In a long slow tale, Boudu is corrupted by civilization, loses the majority of his unfettered freedom, & eventually takes a bride. Yet the wild man is never fully suppressed, & when in the end he is separated from his patron & his bride & his patron's class of people, Boudu instantaneously reverts to the tramp. Only now he seems happier about it, having just escaped a fate worse than death, & goes happily along the road with no more thoughts of suicide.
The great comic actor Michel Simon, in this his most famous role, does a wonderful job & can win smiles just by a glance upward or down. One can see that in its day, in a classist social order within which interaction with an outcast was unthinkable, Boudu's disrespect for cleanliness & manners must have been awfully shocking.
But if one is not shocked by acknowledging the humanity of the homeless, it's not so strange or impressive. A high point of horrific humor is when he wipes his shoes on fine linen -- an act that won gasps from contemporary audiences -- but today Boudu Saved just seems to me more relic than timeless work of art.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl