Plot: What’s it about?
Boudu (Michel Simon) is a tramp, a derelict who roams the streets with no real purpose, but when he takes a dive into the river, his life changes forever. Or does it? His plunge into the river to end his life, but finds himself rescued instead. The man who saves him is Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), a kind family man who runs a bookstore. Mr. Lestingois is a gentle and helpful man, so after he saves Boudu, he offers the tramp shelter, in his own home, no less. The lady of the house, Mrs. Lestingois (Marcelle Hainia) is terrified of Boudu and with good reason, as he shows no appreciation for his good fortune. In fact, Boudu acts as if he dislikes the family, behaving in crude and salacious fashion. Even the home’s maid Anne-Marie (Severine Lerczinksa) is petrified by what she sees, but Mr. Lestingois insists that Boudu remain a guest. Will Boudu ever show appreciation for this kindness, or should he have been left in the river?
No, this is not the recent remake of Boudu, which stinks to high heaven, instead this is the original Boudu Saved from Drowning. Jean Renoir directs and with his usual high level of skill, but in this case, don’t expect his traditional approach. Renoir is best known for intelligent cinema with sharp social commentary, whereas here, the social commentary is quite blunt. Effective? Yes, but not in the same way and as such, Boudu might come off as more crude than Renoir’s standard fare. Even so, the movie is a delight and that is thanks in no small part to star Michel Simon, who plays the title character. Once you’ve seen Michel as Boudu, you’ll never forget his work and chances are, you’ll want to revisit his performance. While not the typical masterpiece you’d expect from Renoir, Boudu is a wonderful film and well worth a look. As usual, Criterion drums up a solid disc and restored transfer, so this release is well recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Boudu Saved from Drowning is presented in full frame, as intended. I knew this would look good, but it is even better than expected, some terrific work here indeed. I wouldn’t say this is a pristine, reference level treatment, but it is the best I’ve ever seen the flick look on home video, so I am most pleased. The print looks very clean, with minimal debris and other problems, so the image is allowed to shine and that it does. The black & white looks great and shows more sharpness than expected, which is always good news. Another great looking transfer from Criterion, who know how to handle these wonderful pictures.
Audio: How does it sound?
Criterion has cleaned up the elements and removed many imperfections, but this is still an older mono soundtrack. As such, some flaws remain and the audio has a thin presence in most scenes. This movie relies on dialogue however, so we don’t miss depth or dynamic presence in this case. I found dialogue to be clear and easy to understand, while the other elements seem in proper order as well. Not a dynamic soundtrack, but one which handles the material well and offers no reason to complain. This disc also includes optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An archival introduction by Renoir starts us off, followed by an interview with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin and an interactive map of Paris in the 1930s. You can use the map to “visit” some of the locations within the film, which I think is quite cool. This disc also includes a conversation with Eric Rohmer and critic Jean Douchet from French television and an excerpt from Cineastes de notre temps, which features Renoir and Michel Simon and is more than worth a look. Perhaps not as loaded with extras as some of Criterion’s discs, but still a more than solid assortment of supplements.