A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Two by Jean Renoir

Boudu Saved From Drowning (Jean Renoir, 1932)
A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1936)
"Épater la bourgeoisie!" went the rallying cry of France's 19th-century poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, who styled themselves as "Decadents." But ever since Molière's M. Jourdain, the social-climbing bourgeois gentilhomme, was delighted to discover that he was speaking prose, French artists of whatever medium have delighted themselves in satirizing the manners and morals of the middle class, sometimes affectionately and sometimes savagely. On my living room wall I have two prints of cartoons done by Honoré Daumier in a series he called "Pastorales." Both show very solidly middle-class and middle-aged couples, presumably Parisians taking a day in the country. In one, the husband carries his large, copiously clad wife on his back as he fords a small stream that barely comes to his ankles. They have evidently been caught in a summer storm, for he is chiding her that such things are to be expected, even on the sunniest day. Meanwhile, she is urging him, "Ah, Jules, don't let the torrent sweep us away!" In the other, a similarly clad woman sits on the bank of a pond in which her husband, wearing his glasses and with his head swathed in a handkerchief, has been taking a dip. "The water is delicious, Virginie," he says. "I assure you, you're making a mistake by not joining me." I was reminded of these prints while watching Jean Renoir's great short film -- it's only 40 minutes long, but every minute is golden -- A Day in the Country. In it, the Dufour family -- husband, wife, daughter, future son-in-law, and comically deaf grandmother -- find a country inn in a beautiful setting on their day away from the city. The mother and daughter immediately become targets for two young men, who manage to set off with them in their skiffs on the river, after diverting the other men by lending them fishing poles. The daughter, Henriette (Sylvia Bataille) goes with Henri (Georges D'Arnoux). When a storm comes up, they take shelter in the woods, where she yields to his advances. Years later, she returns to the same spot with her husband, Anatole (Paul Temps), an unromantic drip, and while he naps, she encounters Henri and recalls their brief encounter. The film is an exquisite mix of comedy and melancholy, the kind of subtle blending of tones Renoir is known for from his greatest films, The Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939). A Day in the Country was in fact never finished -- weather interrupted the shooting and Renoir had to move on to another commitment -- but the existing footage was assembled ten years later under the supervision of the producer, Pierre Braunberger, with two explanatory intertitles, and it stands on its own as a masterwork. In sharp contrast to the affectionately amused treatment of the bourgeoisie in A Day in the Country, Boudu Saved From Drowning is a raucous free-for-all centered on the great eccentric Michel Simon in the title role. Boudu is a tramp, a shaggy monster, who after his dog runs away decides to drown himself in the Seine. But he is rescued by Édouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), a bookseller, who takes him into his home. Boudu proceeds to trash the place and seduce both Mme. Lestingois (Marcelle Hainia) and the housemaid (Sévérine Lerczinska), who is also Lestingois' mistress. Simon's performance pulls out all the stops in one of the greatest comic tours de force in film history. If you want to see what épater la bourgeoisie really means, just watch Boudu.   

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