I’ve watched this Renoir film a number of times in my life, and much though I appreciate a good Renoir film — and his best films are among the finest in the canon (Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game being just two of them which have already appeared in the Criterion Collection) — the particular charms of this one seem to pass me by. It’s about Michel Simon’s tramp, called Boudu, who (as the title may suggest) is saved from drowning, much to his great protestation, by a well-meaning local antiquarian bookshop owner, M. Lestingois (Charles Granval). The film has the feeling of a knockabout farce — Simon certainly essays plenty of physical japery in his role — though you get the feeling that Renoir’s particular ire is reserved for the tedious petit bourgeois morality that Lestingois represents (a man so obsessed by status and clothes and propriety in all its forms, despite philandering with the much younger housemaid). The problem is that his vehicle for this critique is the even more boorish Boudu, none of whose affrontery particularly affects Lestingois, and it’s left to his wife and maid to have to deal with the messes and, more particularly, his rough and impertinent sexual appetites (it’s pretty clear that he rapes the wife, much though she subsequently seems to be charmed by him). Perhaps it’s not meant to be charming, but plenty of critics and audiences seem to find it thus, so if those include you, then that’s excellent.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Jean Renoir (based on the play by René Fauchois); Cinematographer Marcel Lucien; Starring Michel Simon, Charles Granval, Sévérine Lerczinska, Marcelle Hainia; Length 84 minutes.
Seen at the university film department, Wellington, Monday 16 March 1998 (as well as earlier on VHS at home, Wellington, December 1997, and most recently on DVD at home, London, Saturday 4 April 2020).