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.