REVIEW: DVD Release: Boudu Saved from Drowning

Film: Boudu Saved from Drowning
Release date: 4th April 2011
Certificate: PG
Running time: 82 mins
Director: Jean Renoir
Starring: Michel Simon, Charles Granval, Marcelle Hainia, Severine Lerczinska, Jean Daste
Genre: Comedy
Studio: Park Circus
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Country: France

With its 80th anniversary fast approaching, Jean Renoir's classic social comedy Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) gets the restoration and re-release treatment on Blu-ray, courtesy of Park Circus.

Feeling despondent after losing his dog, Boudu (Michel Simon), an unkempt and curmudgeonly vagrant, decides to curtail his miserable existence by throwing himself into the Seine. A large crowd is drawn to his attempted suicide, but none choose to intervene save for local bookseller Édouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), who sees the whole thing from his apartment window. He dives into the river and fishes Boudu out, much to the relief of the onlookers – championing Lestingois as a brave hero – and much to the annoyance of Boudu.

Lestingois decides to become the tramp's benefactor; offering him food, new clothes and a warm bed. Boudu shows his gratitude by frequently challenging the manners and civility of the middle-class household in which he is a guest with arrogant and tactless behaviour. The bookseller's wife Emma (Marcelle Hainia) and housemaid/secret mistress Chloe (Sévérine Lerczinska) dislike Boudu's disruptive cantankerousness, however, Édouard is still determined to tame him, but even he has his limits...

Although it was remade by Hollywood as the commercially Successful Down And Out In Beverly Hills in the mid-80s, it’s nice to see that Renoir's original screen adaption of René Fauchois' play Boudu Sauvé des Eaux still holds an incredible and charming freshness after eight decades and, as a result, has aged rather well. Michel Simon is one of cinema's all-time great loveable oafs, playing tactless without resorting to playing dumb or stupid. It’s a skill that he went on to perfect in Jean Vigo's final film L'Atalante (1934).

The rest of the cast do well to not be overshadowed by Simon's attention grabbing hijinks. Granval excels as the good Samaritan with a shady secret, unable to perform his night time visitations to the maid's quarters because of a restless Boudu trying to adjust to sleeping indoors. The two principle female players also hold up well to Simon's buffoonery, eventually being seduced by his forthright charm and spontaneity; creating an interesting dynamic shift in time for the third act. The characters overall, feel pretty convincing and rounded - the middle-class household don't come across as being overly stuck up and stilted, nor is Boudu perceived as a caricature pauper.

Renoir takes great pleasure in exploring the double standards generated by the class divide. An early scene where a woman encourages her young daughter to help those less fortunate by offering a little money, only to be met with surly ungratefulness, foreshadows his relationship with the bookseller's household. On the flip side, Boudu is met with similar hostility when he asks a policeman if he can help find his lost dog. The policeman tells the tramp to be on his way only to then bend over backwards for a wealthy woman with a similar plight. Renoir's restrained use of music is also interesting, opting to use a minimal arrangement consisting of a lone flute (played by one of the characters); eschewing the then common practice of having ubiquitous overture and incidental music playing throughout almost every scene.

Also, it’s always nice to see that a comedy from a bygone era is still able to put a smile on one's face eighty years later. The sense of humour on display, whilst interestingly quirky, may not appeal to those who enjoy a more modern, subversive edginess to their comedy, but some humour is timeless. In fact, Boudu Saved From Drowning plays out like a sit-com in places – decades before such a thing existed – laying the groundwork for so many fish-out-of-water and mismatched partnership based comedies that would subsequently arise. On the other hand, new nostalgia based humour has been inadvertently created due to the generational gap. For example, Boudu is scolded by Lestingois' wife because he is about to leave the building without shining his shoes – would this be the case today? So, if anything, Boudu Saved From Drowning acts a bizarre time capsule, reminding future generations just how much standards have slipped over the course of the last century.

As for the Blu-ray presentation, Park Circus have done a commendable job. This is quite easily the best that Boudu Saved From Drowning has ever looked, home video or otherwise. Detail is pretty good for a film of this vintage, although it frequently shows up some of the soft photography scattered throughout, but not detrimentally so. Also, the occasional interstitial exterior shot appears underexposed, but again, this is due to the shortcomings of the original source and not necessarily the disc. On the upside, the print that Park Circus has chosen to use is very clean and free of any noteworthy damage. The audio is also pretty crisp, making Boudu Saved From Drowning worth the upgrade for those so inclined.

Boudu Saved From Drowning is a great example of vintage, pre-Hollywood Renoir. Although it has been surpassed and overshadowed many times since it was first released, even now in the 21st century, its charm and humour still resonates. It makes for an interesting look back, reminding you of why people fell in love with cinema in the first place. MP

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