|Michel Simon as Boudo in Boudo Saved from Drowning(1932) directed by Jean Renoir|
Boudo Saved from Drowning (1932)
d. Jean Renoir
Criterion Collection #305
This is the third Jean Renoir film from the Criterion Collection I've watched. The other two: The Grand Illusion (1937) and Elena and Her Men (1956) are "classic" Renoir and "late" Renoir respectively, so that would make Boudo Saved from Drowning "early" Renoir. Renoir is one of those Artist who is known but not watched, a denizen of film studies courses and one night revivals at repertory theaters in places like New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Jean Renoir is not riding a recent wave of interest for any reason, there are no A-list Hollywood actresses set to star in reboots of his old films, he's not a particularly cool guy beloved by cineastes.
Jean Renoir's light touch is fully on display in Boudo, shot in 1931, when film cameras, sound equipment and principles of films creation made keeping a light touch difficult. If you look at Boudo's immediate contemporaries in The Criterion Collection, all you see is German Expressionism and silent American comedies by Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Perhaps the most appropriate comparison is Chaplin, since Boudo, played by Michel Simon is a quasi-lovable tramp who turns the staid and predictable world of bourgeois book seller Lestingois up-side down with his irascible behavior.
The central incident of Boudo Saved from Drowning is in the title of the film. Lestingois, looking at the river through his telescope, sees Boudo try to kill himself by jumping off a bridge. He runs across the street, saves Boudo, and brings him back to his book shop for an attempt at rehabilitation. In its original version as a play in Paris, Boudo was perceived as a kind of satire on the comedy of manners that would have been well familiar to early 20th century audiences. Boudo is a wacky outsider written to stir the pot (and plot.)