B est pour Boudu sauvé des eaux
At first I was going to just write about the film Boudu starring Gerard Depardieu that was released in 2005. Until I found out that it was actually a remake. And not even the first. In fact, in 1986, Nick Nolte starred in American director Paul Mazursky's version: Down and Out in Beverly Hills. I tracked down the original and the director is no less than the son of French impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Boudu sauvé des eaux is my first encounter with Jean Renoir's work. I was, until now, ignorant of his fame and critical acclaim. When Renoir died in 1979, Orson Welles wrote a tribute in the Los Angeles times calling him "The Greatest of all Directors".
Michel Simon stars as a tramp named Boudu who is saved from drowning. His bourgeouis savior, Lestingois, invites him into his house to recover. The film is about the the rescue and the ensuing complications and consequences.
So how does the original Boudu of Renoir and Simon in Paris fare against Nick Nolte in Beverly Hills and Gerard Depardieu in Aix-en-Provence?
Obviously I "understood" the American version a lot more than both French versions not only because of the language but also the culture- though not specifically Beverly Hills. When I saw Boudu with Gerard Depardieu I was already familiar with his work (imdb.com lists over 150 movies he's been in since 1967) and though I saw the movie in French it was subtitled. Linguistically I understood almost nothing of the original since my DVD version didn't have subtitles and my French is not that good, yet. Also I hadn't heard of the director nor the actors. Still, armed with having already seen the the remakes I had enough information about the plot and I was able to pay more attention to the direction, the cinematography and the acting.
Despite my limited understanding of the dialogue, I liked Jean Renoir's version filmed in black and white the best. I prefer the Parisian location and Michel Simon is my favorite Boudu. While watching the film there were moments where Simon reminded me off Nolte and Depardieu's rendition– when I realized, oh it's actually the other way around if anything. Either Nolte and Depardieu based their Boudus on Simon's or they all have a good "tramp" in them.
I thought Renoir's version had the best ending of the three. Yet, I must say that the film isn't laugh-out-loud funny like some scenes in the later versions– it is hard to identify with the 1930s and we are a more sophisticated film audience. I'd have to say, almost as a warning, that this version is one for fans of Renoir, Simon, or hard-core cinemaphiles.
Orson Welles on Jean Renoir
La photo: Strasbourg, août 2010.