The remastered re-release of Jean Renoir’s much-loved farce Boudu Saved from Drowning is a pleasing look back at a by-gone, but influential, era of cinema. Renoir’s perceptive comedy about a bourgeois bookseller who takes in a suicidal tramp has dated – there is no doubt about it – but remains a interesting slice of cinema history.
Obviously the medium has come a long way since 1932, when Boudu was first released, but what stands out is Renoir’s flare for shot-making, particularly in the exterior scenes, and his gift for portraying deceptively simple characters. Michel Simon’s Boudu is all visual ticks and old-fashioned slapstick, spilling water and guzzling bread through his beard, while the family who adopt him deal with his idiosyncrasies in exaggerated but believable ways.
All of this is analogous and quietly sociopolitical, of course, but it plays out in a playful fashion indicative of Renoir’s ability to be subtle when he wanted to be. It doesn’t work now on the same level that it would have done on initial release – the slapstick aspect in particular, which comes to the fore in the mid-section – is lost a little on a modern audience, but the overall effect remains intact.