Reviews and notes
BOUDU SAUVE DES EAUX
, shows disruption triumphant. Michel Simon in the part of Boudu, the haywire tramp whose vision of the way life should be anticipates the hippies' by nearly forty years, gives it a curious benediction through Renoir's filmmaking genius. At the beginning of the film, Boudu has lost his dog. A policeman brushes aside his request for help. Boudu is not a lovable tramp. He is nothing like Chaplin. When he attempts to commit suicide by drowning, a bookseller saves him and tries to rehabilitate him in his own house, but there is nothing doing. The bookseller's kindly aim is to turn the unruly man into a good bourgeois like himself, but Boudu prefers to be left alone. He doesn't want to be saved. There is no place in society that he covets. If this is the world, he would rather be out of it. He does his best to impel the move, by saying with a chortle that he doesn't absolutely need an offered necktie, by pursuing the bookseller's mistress (who is the housemaid), by seducing his wife, by saying that the sheets make him sweat ("I get sick"), and by taking firmly to the bookseller's floor.
The film, written by Renoir and Albert Valentin from a minor play of the time, is a lyric and riotous account of a dissident who escapes by a system of mayhem. He wants none of the things that respectability wants him to want. While the wife grows petulant in the kitchen, he lies down on his shoulder blades and props up a doorjamb with his carpet slippers, says he suspects that the bookseller fished him out of the drink because he needed a servant, and spits genially onto a first edition of Baizac. The wife, dusting herself with talcum powder, mutters distractedly that her nerves are going to crack. It is obvious to her that one should rescue only people of one's own class.
Michel Simon's loose, doggy face, visible in typical Renoir shots through a spiral staircase and in distant rooms as he concocts worrying schemes, incites the wife to spite: "I can only shun the man who spat on Balzac." To her horror, he not only makes love to her, which stays well within the bounds of what she finds socially acceptable, but goes as far as to call her by her first name. Her husband is slightly mollified by getting a medal for the rescue.
Meanwhile, Boudu intones Les Fleurs du Mal
in the doorway and smokes an obviously smelly cigar. The film comes full circle when he marries the maid and sets out in a bowler hat with his bride in a boat. Nearly trapped in a social act, he throws himself into the river. Not suicide. Not despair. An escape from what is expected of him. Barking and rolling like a sea lion, he floats slowly down the river and eventually hauls himself up onto a bank, staggering drunkenly and embracing a scarecrow as though it were a colleague. There is a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree shot of the free world regained, and then the camera sinks down to the grass and the white dust raised by a breeze in the summer heat. You can have seen the film fifteen years ago and still remember that grass, that dust, that freedom.
-Penelope Gilliatt, Jean Renoir, McGraw-Hill, 1975.
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