Boudu Saved from Drowning

Boudu Saved from Drowning

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It's rare for a film made in 1932 to stand up well before a cynical modern audience, but sometimes the old ideas are the best. This one is simple enough (and, in places, delightfully crude). Boudu (Michel Simon) is a tramp who has had enough of his lot and decides to end it all by throwing himself into the Seine. When well-to-do book seller Édouard Lestingois (Charles Granval) intervenes, Boudu concludes, according to tradition, that this makes M Lestingois responsible for this life from that point on. A challenge! thinks M Lestingois. He will remold this unfortunate man into a civilised, sophisticated individual who can successfully make his own way in the world. But Boudu has other ideas and a significant influence of his own.

A quirky look at class struggle no less fearsome in its implications because of its playfulness, Boudu Saved From Drowning was originally a theatrical hit by by René Fauchois, but the redoubtable Jean Renoir makes it seem intended for the screen. This seamless production, astounding given the limited tools available to the crew at the time, still has much to teach filmmakers today.

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For the casual viewer it's as pleasing to the eye as to the funny bone. Boudu himself, of course, isn't a pretty sight for anyone, but nonetheless he sets his sights on the women of the household, and his anarchic wit often proves the undoing of the bourgeois saviour keen to display him as a mark of his own success.

Despite various remakes and a fine turn from Gérard Depardieu in 2005, no one has ever come close to Simon's performance as the original screen Boudu, nor to Renoir's elegant framing of this marvellously ungrateful man. Their mutual challenge to the moral high ground assumed by the charitable is every bit as relevant today as it was when the film was made, and the film itself remains uproariously funny.

Reviewed on: 17 Dec 2010
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A suicidal tramp rescued from the Seine seduces his middle class saviour's wife and maid.
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Director: Jean Renoir

Writer: Jean Renoirand Albert Valentin, based on the play by René Fauchois.

Starring: Michel Simon, Charles Granval, Marcelle Hainia, Sévérine Lerczinska

Year: 1932

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

London 2010

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