Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)
The Jean Renoir super-classic, recognized as a landmark of the cinema from almost the earliest efforts to define a hall of honor in the form. I mostly was able to enjoy it; I suspect that as with other great French movies of the 30s, including others of Renoir--this epoch being one of my four or five favorites in the history of the art--multiple viewings over time will allow certain aspects and parts of the story to click in my mind as to what they are and how they fit in with the whole more smoothly than they did on the initial viewing, which will enable me to enjoy it much more. While naturally there are movies that require you, assuming you have the mental tools, to be more than usually alert to what is going on in them and put in some effort to see them properly, I find that these old French films will come to you to a certain extent--or at least the adjustment needed to see them more accurately is less strenuous and dependent on high intellectual capacity. The stories develop and take form, have points of emphasis, etc, in such ways as I at least seem not to be accustomed to at first, but the basic narrative language is capable of being picked up on after a few runs through, I think, by even a comparative simpleton.
I do not like it when bloggers do boring plot recaps, but as most of my comments here will not make any sense without some reference to the basic elements of the story, I will make a brief summary of these. Boudu is a vagabond who throws himself into the Seine, though in retrospect it is not clear to me why, since most of the story revolves around how much more free and alive he is than the repressed bourgeois characters all around him; I suppose it is suggested he was depressed at the necessity of living in a world completely overrun and dominated by these smug and soulless materialists. In any case, Boudu is rescued by and taken into the house of M. Lestingois, an apparently prosperous bookseller who is able to arrive quickly on the scene because his home and business have a great location on the Left Bank with a view of the river. Once in the household, Boudu, being a natural person untainted by middle-class proprieties, freely expresses and indulges all the thoughts and physical urges that occur to him, flummoxing the bourgeois males and intriguing their women. At one telling point M Lestingois, who has been carrying on an affair with the live-in maid, when he can manage it, is trying to sneak up to her room in the dead of night and wakes up Boudu, who loudly mocks him for creeping about like a mouse even to avoid being caught by himself, a homeless bum, at which the bookseller, unable to proceed boldly on after this distraction, skulks back to the bed he probably does not share with his frigid wife. This is all good fun, but as I stated earlier I am sure it will be more fun if I can get my mind to respond more in rhythm with the flow of the movie, which I experienced this time in a more herky-jerky manner.
While it is well-established among genuinely intelligent people, especially in France, that bourgeois life and people are, if not absolutely odious, at least too small in their ranges of thought and activity to be satisfactory to any man or woman of real spirit, and everybody who gets the least sniff of a real education wants little more than to be able to escape this deadly and reviled life, it is obviously much more difficult to overcome the bad habits of thought and taste with which such a upbringing permeates you, certainly as far as transcending this status to attain any level that is clearly more desirable, than one would think given the moral opprobrium that attaches to not being able to transcend it. The secrets for becoming the type of person who is accepted as being above the bourgeois, so far as they are secrets, are inscrutable to most people who don't discover that they would like to possess them until after they are around fifteen years old or so, which seems already to be too late to acquire them. As for the hatred of the bourgeois as a class or a kind of organized enemy that is antagonistic to intelligent people and artists, and proud of themselves for being so, as a mass force they would appear to be in decline in most western societies, both in regard to resources and cultural domination, to be replaced one supposes by mass lumpenproletarianism. Why this is seen as an improvement. I do not really understand, though I guess their pretensions and delusions of grandeur are more modest and less grating on the nerves of the advanced classes, not to mention less expensive to maintain overall. Some on the American right wing seem to think bourgeois cultural and behavioral norms should still be promoted for the masses on low prole incomes and employment conditions, but it should be obvious that there is no motivation to become this sort of responsible, sober, sexually chaste person without a promise of obtaining or being let into significant material benefits somewhere down the line.
This movie is also famous for its views of early 1930s Paris. Some of the shots did make me almost want to cry, to think that the particular culture and personality of the city that is so appealing in this era is probably almost all vanished now, to the delight of some no doubt and the superior insistence of others (to persuade you that you never did and never will know anything of of it), though I still was able to find something of the old magic and charm even when I was there last in 1999, though at the time it was alarmingly less than I had found in 1990, at which time Paris was still very much what I think of as its ideal self, less English spoken, the older and simpler pleasures available at reasonable prices, that sort of nonsense...
Another thing I wanted to add about these pre-World War II French classics, is that they depict the attitudes and deep culture of this great and central nation--much of which sense can be discerned in the literature of the era as well--in something of its final days, because the particular outlook on life, whether it is the unconscious confidence or sense of importance of a vital, living people, or whatever, that comes through in these movies did not wholly survive 1940. Vestiges of it hung on for a while and shined through in other books and artworks, again up until the 90s or so, but since then there is not really anyone left with a meaningful connection to this pre-1940 France, and the character one detects in these old movies--or certain aspects of its charm anyway--is largely vanished now