When you look at lists of the greatest French directors of all time, the name Jean Renoir is guaranteed to show up. With five films on the 1001 list, it is little wonder that so many people hold him in such high regard. Sadly, having watched Boudu Saved From Drowning, I have now seen the last of the entries on the list. Even sadder is that this is my least favourite film of his, by a country mile.
I have seen it said on a number of film forums that your enjoyment of this still depends heavily on how much you enjoy the central character. Think of the titular Boudu as a French version of Charlie Chaplin’s “the Tramp” but is actually quite vulgar rather than delightful. This is where the film really fell down for me as I really did not like the character. There is no doubt that the central performance of Boudu is incredibly well executed, but I absolutely loathed him within the first 10 minutes he appeared onscreen.
The entire film can be summarised by the saying “no good deed goes unpunished”. In fact, not only is it punished but in a way that in 1932 might have gotten some cheap laughs ,but considering the number of homeless people I pass every day on the way to work – speaks to a view of homeless people that can be quite damaging. The end message of the film is to leave homeless people allowed to live outside all that is the environment in which they are happiest – which as we know is basically bullshit. The other key message is that if you go out of your way to help them they will go out of their way to ruin your home and destroy your life.
So yeah, I took some issue with the subject matter of this film and I’m not even going to get started on the blatant misogyny. There is a scene where the homeless character forces himself onto the wife of the man who save his life. She fights, he persists and then (in typical 1930s fashion) she comes up all a twitter after being cured of her reluctance by his magic penis.
Yes, I know there are sensibilities of the time. However, this is meant to be a comedy and I found the entire film to be unnerving. Some different music and a change in lighting and you’d have the set-up for a good horror movie. A bit of a disappointing way to end my time with Jean Renoir – but I have the other four films that I really enjoyed.