Friday, May 21, 2010

Boudu Sauvé des Eaux

Suicide seems to have been a common theme in French comedies, or at least the ones showcased in Cannes Classics this year. Jean Renoir's Boudu Sauvé des Eaux is about a homeless man, Boudu, saved from drowning himself by the middle-class bookseller Monsieur Lestingois. Hailed as a hero by the community, Lestingois takes Boudu in and tries to give him a respectable life. However, Boudu isn't interested in the so-called good life. He takes everything Lestingois is willing to give him, up to and including the bookseller's own mistress; after marrying her, he realizes that he was happier as a bum than a bourgeois, and jumps back into the river to reclaim his old life.

Much of the film's humor comes from the disparities between the Lestingois family's genteel lifestyle and Boudu's crude existence. Although Lestingois holds a higher place in society, Boudu continually bests him, running the man and his family ragged simply because they won't stand up to him -- it would be poor manners, after all, to refuse their guest. The lowly Boudu, therefore, comes off as smarter and wittier than his well-educated hosts, ironic because they run and live in a bookstore, which theoretically should be a fountain of wisdom.

However, this film is more than just another story of a poor man outsmarting a richer one. The characters are all complex and engaging; Lestingois does the right thing by taking in Boudu, but he does so at least partially because it makes him look good -- he's more concerned with society's opinion than with his family's. Boudu takes advantage of his hosts, but he too is shown to have at least something resembling a heart. This lighthearted film bypasses the preachy route by poking fun at both classes simultaneously, with the natural interactions between characters.

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