Class Conflict Comedy à la Renoir


One of Jean Renoir’s earliest features, this 1932 comedy of social disaster seems brutely simple—an unschooled Parisian bum is rescued from a Seine suicide and brought into the unhappy home of a petite bourgeoisie, where chaos reigns—and is also disarmingly Renoirian. Stereotypes die in the sun of Renoir’s humanism; the class conflict is never as rote as the Hollywood remake would lead you to believe. The vain and stifling middle-classers are also generous, literate (bookstore owners!), and wounded, while Michel Simon’s Boudu, sporting the most outrageous movie beard of the pre-war era, is hardly just a lower-depths agent of hypocrisy- demolishing nature. In fact, Simon’s performance is so choked with swallowed mutterings, inappropriate postures, and disturbing tics that you’d even hesitate to call it comic—consider it, perhaps, a pioneering portrait of Asperger’s syndrome. In any case, amid the early-talkie crudeness you can see Renoir discover what it means to visually evoke the unpredictable flow of life with composition, movement, and depth. The Criterion extras include vintage French TV shows featuring Renoir, Simon, and explicator Eric Rohmer; a contemporary appreciation by Jean-Pierre Gorin; and a superb digital-video map tour of Boudu’s Paris, an inspired extra to what is, in a minor key, a symphony to the city.