La Petite merchande d’allumettes (1928) Review

La Petite merchande d’allumettes (1928) Director: Jean Renoir


“The Little Match Girl” is a short and dreamy Renoir film. It is a somber little story with blurry scenes showcasing a cold window pane, and an intense yet bittersweet dream sequence/chase-scene on horseback with the figure of death in the clouds.

This story is based on a Hans Christian Anderson short story. It tells of a poor girl who wanders the streets of Paris selling matches on a freezing night (New Years Eve). She gazes longingly into shop windows (one scene is particularly memorable as the camera blurs for the audience while she struggles to see the figures inside). She also attempts to befriend men on the street, like a policeman. Eventually, she huddles into a corner, as she does not want the shame of returning to her family’s shack without having sold anything, and she falls asleep, dreaming a surreal dream of a toy store in which the mannequins and toys come alive. The embodiment of death appears in her dream-store and they fly into the sky in a remarkable special effects-ridden, chase scene. In the end, she envisions a plant that arises, contrasted with her frigid body lying in the snow on the street. She dies and her corpse is inspected by passers-by.

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This film lasts about 30 minutes, and apparently the daughter of James Joyce played a brief, minor role in the film. Renoir was married to the lead, Catherine Hessling, however they divorced shortly after this film was completed. Hessling starred in most of Renoir’s nine silent films.

Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) Review

Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) Director: Jean Renoir


Boudu Saved From Drowning is a strange but amusing film -a more lighthearted social satire a la The Last Laugh. It is a good film worth seeing as part of a film project, though not absolutely essential. Some Renoir films are absolutely stunning like The Grand Illusion or A Day in the Country, while others are more challenging for me.

The plot to this obscure film, Boudu Saved From Drowning, is taken from a French play, however it was revised and rewritten by Renoir. It tells the story of Boudu, a flaneur on the streets of Paris, who is wandering through the park begging for money. Many are frightened away by his large beard and unkempt attire. Meanwhile a bookseller is speaking with his family and he looks out his open window with a binocular. He spots Boudu climbing over a bridge about to fall into the water in an apparent suicide attempt. The bookseller rushes down to the water to rescue Boudu amidst a crowd of onlookers. Boudu recovers at the booksellers house and they decide to try to convert him into a gentleman. Slowly they teach him proper mannerisms and give him a shave. At first he causes chaos in the house until he starts to believe in himself as a gentleman and possible bookseller partner. Boudu also wins 100,000 francs in the lottery. He and the maid fall in love and are to be married, even though the bookseller was carrying on with maid initially. As they are slowly drifting in a boat as part of their wedding party, Boudu reaches off to the side of the boat to grab a flower lily nearby. In doing so, he tips the boat over and everyone falls into the river. However, Boudu swims away further down the river and he steals the clothes off a scarecrow to return to his hobo life before nearly drowning in the Seine.

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Michael Simon plays the memorable Boudu character in this social satire that is often considered a comedy about the limits of liberalism, or altruism.