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Boudu Saved from Drowning (Criterion Collection)


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After well-to-do bookseller Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval) rescues a tramp from a suicidal plunge into the Seine, his family adopts the bum and dedicates itself to reforming him. The irrepressible Boudu (Michel Simon) shows his gratitude by shaking the household to its foundations, challenging the hidebound principles of his hosts and seducing them with his anarchic charm. With Boudu Saved from Drowning, legendary director Jean Renoir takes advantage of a host of Parisian locations and a brilliant performance by Simon to create an effervescent satire of bourgeois complacency.

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Long before there were hippies, there was, sublimely, Boudu. In 1932 director Jean Renoir and French star Michel Simon, fresh from their early-sound triumph La Chienne, decided to re-team in adapting a stage farce about a derelict rescued from the river by a bookseller and groomed for bourgeois society. The bookseller's idea proves to be disastrous, though working through all the possibilities for disruption and catastrophe is a slow-gathering and hilarious process. Simon always seemed as much force of nature as mere actor, and his and Renoir's inspiration is to make Boudu the vagabond not a satyr or opportunist or noble savage or de facto sociopolitical anarchist, but simply an oversized manchild with no more guile or conscious agenda than the shaggy dog whose sudden defection led him to throw himself into the Seine. If his insistence on leaving a downy-soft bed to sleep in the hall happens to block the door to the maid's room, where his benefactor Lestingois is wont to sneak after the wife's asleep, well, Boudu doesn't really plan it that way. And if he leaves a wet lugie between the pages of a first-edition Balzac, well, they asked him not to spit on the floor, after all!

We can see that the original farce (by René Fauchois) was probably pretty funny to begin with, but Renoir makes of it much, much more. Boudu Saved from Drowning--arguably the first French New Wave film, nearly 30 years before there was a New Wave--is one of those cardinal works in which we can see, and experience anew, a great filmmaker inventing the cinema. Without jettisoning the formal qualities of the theatrical farce, Renoir opens his film to light, fresh air, and the teeming multifariousness of Parisian street life; the denizens of the city become unwitting extras in the movie as Boudu first shambles, then prances, among them. The deep-focus camerawork is exhilarating, but even the gregarious roughness of the production feels right, indeed essential. "I believe that perfection is even dangerous," Renoir remarked of his own movie. "If a film is perfect, the public has nothing to add.... The audience should always be trying to finish a picture, ... fill in the holes which we didn't fill." Collaborating on Boudu is a glorious experience. --Richard T. Jameson


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Amazon.com: 11 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Sophisticated And Warm, An Excellent Comedy By Jean Renoir Sept. 29 2005
By C. O. DeRiemer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
a very nice film March 12 2006
By Ted - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.

"Boudu saved from drowning" known in France as "Boudu sauvé des eaux" is a comedy about a Parisian bookseller who rescues a homeless man from a suicide attempt. He takes him in but his poor manners bother those around him.

The film is directed by Jean Renoir known for many other great classic French films. The film has some great scenes of 1930's Paris and good acting.

The DVD has plenty of extra features also.

There is an old introduction to the film by Jean Renoir, an interactive map of 1930's Paris specializing in the film's locations, a new interview with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, scenes from a program featuring Jean Renoir and Michel Simon, and a video conversation between film director Eric Rohmer and movie critic Jean Douchet

The interactive map feature was very well done and shows how the filming locations appear today.

Overall, this is a very fine movie and I recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Civilization and Its Discontents June 8 2007
By Mark Pruett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
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.
"One should only come to the aid of one's equals!" Sept. 3 2008
By Kerry Walters - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
I'm not a fan of comedic cinema (nothing against it as a genre or art form; I just don't have much of a funny bone). But Renoir's "Boudo Saved from Drowning" (or "...from the water" in French) had me laughing at the richness of Michel Simon's portrayal of the crazily unconventonal tramp who disrupts a respectable bourgeois household.

Boudo is a comical Caliban, a wild "Neanderthal" as one of the film's characters calls him, who serves as a countervailing force to everything that the middle class calls "civilization." He eats when he wants, sleeps where he wants, wears what he wants, he has no sense of property or propriety, and feels neither gratitude nor obligation when given a handout. He's very much like an animal: embodied, appetitive, and clueless about what's respectable and what's not.

But Boudu performs an important function in the film: he reveals the pretensions and hypocrisy of so-called respectable middle class. They sneak around in their adulterous affairs. Boudu's lust is open and unconcealed. They sell their souls for money and prestige. Boudu couldn't care less. They mouth platitudes about helping their fellow man, but only if the fellow man they're helping is polite and clean and well-trained. "Boudu Saved from Drowning" is a wonderful expose of the thinness of the veneer we call "social propriety."

Just three hilarious moments from the film:

Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), the bookseller who saves Boudu from the Seine and then embarks on a crusade to civilize him, washes his hands of his uncooth guest when he discovers that Boudu has spit in a copy of Balzac's The Physiology of Marriage. "I care less than nothing for someone who would desecrate this book!" he exclaims. "One should only come to the aid of one's equals!" Yet Lestingois, who seems so concerned about a book on marriage, has no qualms about cheating on his wife.

A little girl gives street tramp Boudu 5 francs. Several moments later, an obviously wealthy dandy passing by fruitlessly searches his pockets for change to give Boudu. Boudu gives him the 5 franc note, telling him to get himself something to eat. The gesture is absolutely without guile or sarcasm, which is what makes it so hilarious.

Tramp Boudu loses his dog and asks a park cop for help finding him. The cop shoos him away. Moments later a well-dressed society woman comes running up to the same cop complaining that her 10,000 franc dog has disappeared. Immediately a sizeable portion of the Paris constabulary are on the case.

In an interview with Simon and Renois included on the Criterion disk, the two men remember that the film was met with outrage when it was released in 1932, and theaters showing it were even closed down by the Paris authorites. Apparently the film hit exactly the bourgeois nerve at which it was aimed. It still does today.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Hilarious. Oct. 11 2006
By History Teacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
I'm not into a lot of analysis and social commentary like many of the reviewers of this film seem to be. And I have nothing against the bourgeoisie--average middle class people make the world go round (and I bet that most people who review films on Amazon are very middle-class, enjoying the comforts of 21st century America--which are considerably more than the comforts of 1930's France.) I can see that if there was a real Boudu, I would not want him in my house for very long, if at all (the man spits in books! He uses clean bed quilts to wipe his dirty feet!) However, all social commentary aside, this is one of the funniest movies ever. Michel Simon is a comic genius. The physical things he does, the way he talks just continually crack you up--he would be funny in a moview by himself. But it's even funnier here to watch him react with the other people in the movie, who are all really good actors and excellent straight men (and women). If you just want to laugh and laugh, watch this.


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