Boudu (Michel Simon) is a no good tramp who lives alone, save for his dog, in a park in Paris. jumps into the Seine. Though Boudu doesn't have a penny to his name or any real material goods to call his own, he does have the benefit of being able to do whatever he wants with his time whenever he wants. He's not held down by a job of by what he should and shouldn't do according to society and as such, he's a free spirit. The only thing that Boudu cares about is his canine companion who, unfortunately for him, goes missing one day. Boudu approaches a police officer to help him find his old pooch but the cop ignores him. To add insult to injury, Boudu sees the same police officer rush to the aid of a pretty young woman who has also lost her dog and needs some help finding him.
In a fit of depression, Boudu begins to wander around the vast city of Paris, and the more he walks the further into the belly of the city he goes. He ends up at the side of the river and, after wandering through the shops and places where he feels especially out of place, he decides he's had enough of it and he jumps off of the bridge into the waters below to what he hopes will be his end. At this point, Mr. Lestingois (Charles Granvos), a wealthy book seller who has set up shop along the riverside, sees Boudu's suicide attempt and he jumps in after him and, as the title implies, saves Boudu from drowning. Lestingois usually spends his free time watching girls along the riverside out of his telescope and it's by chance that he sees Boudu on this fateful day but being a decent man he does his civic duty and saves the pour sap.
Lestingois is kind enough to bring Boudu into his home and help him recover and once he does, he and his wife and their pretty housekeeper (with whom the lusty Lestingois is having an affair behind his wife's back) decide to clean the bum up a bit and remake him in their own image. The clean him up as best they can but things don't go as planned for them. Boudu comes from a different place then they do. He doesn't care if he's got fine clothes or if he's cleanly shaven. He's not part of the bourgeois and he doesn't care for their world. He could care less about material possessions despite the comforts he takes from Lestingois' home. He hits on the women in the home and proves to be a thorn in the side of Lestingois' business. He's also extremely ungrateful for the charity which he has received. In fact, his disregard for the social mores that they hold so dear in their eyes paints him out as a pig or a lesser animal. He has no table manners, he talks at inopportune moments, and he has a tendency to invade people's personal space. Boudu is just doing what comes to him naturally though, and he's starting to feel more and more like he's in a cage rather than being accepted into upper class society.
One of numerous examples of the distinction that Renoir likes to make in his work between the upper and lower classes of French society, Boudu – Saved From Drowning is an excellent piece of satirical comedy that combines some genuine laughs with a poignant social message. Renoir is able to show both sides of the case in the film and while when the film finishes up it's Boudu and not Lestingois who appears to be the victor, he doesn't paint Lestingois as a bad man, merely a flawed one like the rest of us who maybe indulges in a vice or two he'd be better off ignoring for the sake of his marriage.
Directed and photography with no small amount of artistic flair, this is a fine looking film in terms of composition and cinematography but as good as it looks, the real reason to watch the movie is Michel Simon's masterfully comedic performance. While some of the comedy might seem dated to viewers used to generic Hollywood laugh fests, Simon proves to be quite capable of handling the physical side of his role as well as any modern day Jim Carey or Will Ferrell (An odd comparison? Maybe but when you see some of the facial expressions he pulls off it's not an invalid one). He plays the rambunctious sloppy miscreant with such enthusiasm and gusto that it's hard not to feel for the guy as his story progresses. Likewise, Granvos does a fine job playing Boudu's opposite, the slick, well mannered and dapper looking Lestingois. The two leads play of off one another's strong points very well and very naturally and while yes, much of the comedy is obviously scripted and doesn't feel as natural as it might there is definitely a chemistry between the two performers that goes a good long way towards making the film the success that is is. The end result is a fantastic and funny look at the differences between the rich and the poor and the trappings that both classes find themselves in. Renoir knew that there was more to life than material possessions and money, and this film gives us a fine example of how and why that's true.
Criterion have done a very nice job of cleaning up their 1.33.1 fullframe transfer, which presents the film in its original aspect ratio. The black and white image is quite strong and while certain scenes lack the depth you'd expect to see in more modern fair, the overall image quality is quite strong. Contrast levels are well balanced and the black levels stay pretty strong throughout. There is some moderate grain and some noticeable print damage present on the image but it isn't anything that should prove to be irritating as long as your expectation are kept in check. Overall there's a pretty revealing level of clarity to the transfer and while certain scenes are definitely on the softer side, it is entirely possible (and even very likely) that this is a problem with the print used for the transfer and not a fault of the transfer itself.
The film is presented in its native French language in a pretty decent sounding Dolby Digital Mono mix which includes optional English language subtitles that are free of any typographical errors and are clean, clear and easy to read. While this mix isn't absolutely perfect, for a film over seven decades old, it's certainly pretty close and it sounds as good, if not better, than you can realistically expect it to. Criterion has obviously gone to some effort to clean the mix up as while there is some audible background noise, it's only very minor and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion during playback. The dialogue is pretty distinctive sounding and it's certainly easy enough to follow even if it doesn't have much range. In short, there's really nothing worth complaining about here and the musical score in the film sounds particularly good.
The first up the supplements you'll find while wandering through the slick looking menus is a six minute clip from a French television show from the sixties entitled Cineastes Du Notre Temps. The episode that this clip featuring Jean Renoir and Michel Simon was pulled from was broadcast on January 1, 1967 and it's a fun little clip. Seeing the two men interacting and remember the work that they did together on this specific film isn't all that revelatory as far as exclusive information goes but there's definitely a nice sense of friendship between the two men that is as charming as the feature itself and this is a nice supplement that does a fine job of complimenting the main attraction on the disc.
A half hour episode of another French television show entitled Aller Au Cinema is up next, the focus of this piece is on Renoir's social commentary. Hosted by Eric Rohmer and Jean Douchet, this is a pretty comprehensive examination of Renoir's slightly skewed perspective on things and how his take on life is portrayed through the characters in his films, Boudu being one prime example. The duality of some of his characters is examined as are some of the polar opposites who are forced to interact in some of his stories, Boudu and Lestingois being a perfect example. This is an excellent feature and it does an exceptionally good job of delving into the film and its director and taking a look under the surface of it all. Watch this one right after you finish the feature and you'll come away with a better understanding and appreciation of the film you've just viewed.
Jean-Pierre Gorin, a filmmaker and film scholar, provides an on camera interview in which he discusses the advanced methods of Renoir's technique and how it was very much ahead of its time in terms of cinematography and the overall look of the film. He gives some insightful comments into the history of Boudu's character and some interesting comments on Renoir's importance as well. The interview is in English and it features some nice archival photographs of the production used throughout.
Rounding out the supplements on this release are an interactive map of Boudu's Paris that proves to be interesting from a historical perspective as well as an insert containing cast and crew listings, chapter selections, technical information about the transfer, and an interesting essay on the film from Christopher Faulkner. The film also has a brief vintage audio introduction from the late Jean Renoir who spends most of his time complimenting Michel Simon.
Criterion gives Jean Renoir's hilarious and brilliant satirical comedy Boudu – Saved From Drowning excellent treatment on DVD. While the disc could have used a commentary track in the extra features department, there are still plenty of great supplements included on this release and the cleaned up transfer and audio mix are also very, very solid. This one comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.