Boudu Saved From Drowning

81 minutes 2013

Jean Renoir's effortless 1932 masterpiece is as informal, beguiling, and subversive as its eponymous hero, a tramp who is saved from suicide by a Parisian bookseller and ends up taking over his benefactor's home, wife, and mistress. Michel Simon's Boudu is one of the great creations of the cinema: he's not a sentimental, Chaplinesque vagabond, but a smelly, loutish big-city bum; all he's got going for him is his unshakable faith in his perfect personal freedom. The bookseller thinks of himself as a free spirit and a dedicated humanitarian; he wants to be both Boudu's brother and his benefactor, but the tramp resists all of his approaches. He won't be trapped in any roles; like the water of the river from which he comes (and to which he returns), his only duty is to keep moving. Shot largely on location along the quays of Paris, the film features several early experiments with deep focus and nonnaturalistic sound, though its chief stylistic feature is Renoir's incomparable way of gently shifting moods, from the farcical to the lyrical to the tragic and back again. In French with subtitles.

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