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  • "The Rules of the Game" is one of those movies that would be easy to be disappointed by, because it's constantly lauded as one of the greatest movies ever made, and anyone who's spent any time studying film knows that at some point you have to see this movie if you're going to consider yourself a film connoisseur. Well, it is excellent, though it's not excellent in a lot of obvious ways, and I could forgive someone for watching it and having a lukewarm reaction on a first viewing.

    The film is sort of reminiscent of Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night" (though of course Renoir's movie came first) in its use of a country estate filled with a bunch of well-to-do's and the servants waiting on them. It also put me in the mind of Evelyn Waugh's novels, as Renoir uses a thin glaze of humour to mask some bitter truths about class and social standing. There are some downright slapstick moments that feel like something out of a silent comedy, but there are also some sober moments that give the film a very serious grounding.

    What impressed me most was the fluidity of Renoir's direction. The camera is a constant observer, gliding through the vast house, following one character only to switch direction and follow another as he or she walks past. The viewer feels like a voyeur, and Renoir gives the impression that these characters would be behaving somewhat differently if they knew you were watching. I can't explain exactly how he does that, but the feeling comes across distinctly.

    Probably needs to be watched a few times for a full appreciation. In fact, I need to watch it again myself.

    Grade: A
  • A weekend party assembles at the château of the Marquis de la Chesnaye. Among the guests André, an aviator, is in love with the Marquis's wife, Christine; the Marquis himself is conducting an affair with Geneviève; Octave, an old family friend, is also secretly in love with the Marquise. Meanwhile a poacher, appointed servant by the mischievous Marquis, comes to blows with the gamekeeper over the latter's flirtatious wife.

    The set-up may remind one of The Shooting Party or Gosford Park, but the debt is naturally in the present film's favour. Rather, the upstairs-downstairs intrigue, the mingling of comedy with drama, and the setting prior to cataclysmic social/political change owe much to Beaumarchais's Le mariage de Figaro. Which explains the hostility of audiences and government alike on the film's release; it was cut, then banned outright, and not reconstituted until well into the 1950s.

    To tap the source of the disquiet aroused by this superficially fluffy piece of bedroom farce ('Surely just the French doing what they do best?'), one must look beyond the typical observation that it was 'socially insidious because it was a clear attack on the haute-bourgeoisie, the very class who would shortly lead the troops against the Germans'. The auto-critique goes deeper than that.

    Consider. The lower orders are no better than their irresponsible masters: the women are no less immoral, the men just as concerned to preserve their foreheads from cuckoldry. This is the culmination of Figaro's contract with the Count: he enjoins the latter to behave like an honest man, as befits his station; two centuries later, not only has the nobility welshed on the deal, it has brought the servant classes down with it. Renoir serves up for the French a portrait of a society which is rotten from top to bottom. 'The Rules of the Game' are: keep up appearances, and somehow the whole charade will be preserved indefinitely (barring Adolf and his Panzers, that is).

    André, the aviator, the crosser of the Atlantic (distance, perspective), is the one who threatens the edifice. Being Christine's lover is not enough; she must elope with him, it must be 'honest'. If she does this she will be showing that feelings matter more than money and position. The choice is too much for her and she runs for cover with Octave, and thus sets in motion the mechanism by which everything ends in tragedy but the status quo is maintained, for now.

    The working out of this theme in Renoir's hands leads to some striking juxtapositions of tone. Renoir the 'humanist', like Octave whom he plays, was a lover, and forgiver, of humanity. It was not in him to condemn without affection. In one scene the gamekeeper chases his rival through the drawing room discharging a pistol, while the guests barely look up from their cards: he is merely playing by the rules, after all. It was perhaps the coexistence of farcical sequences like this with the wanton slaughter of wildlife in the hunt scene that audiences found hard to take. Renoir himself wrote: 'During the shooting of the film I was torn between my desire to make a comedy of it and the wish to tell a tragic story. The result of this ambivalence was the film as it is.' Amen.
  • At the risk of seeming heretical, I have to confess that having finally seen this film (at the American Museum of the Moving Image in NY), I found it disappointing to some degree.

    I can appreciate the provocative candor with which Renoir has created this satire/indictment of a society which has lost its moorings. I think I'm capable of seeing what he was trying to do, and respect the goals he seems to be aiming for. I can also appreciate much of the acting (Nora Gregor seems especially luminous), the dramatic/narrative organization, the witty structural recurrences of things like the old man's "they're a dying race" lines and indeed the overall enormity of Renoir's ambitions. I like what he set out to do, and in most ways I was "on his side" as I watched the film.

    And yet -- I find that it doesn't quite all add up for me. Most surprisingly the film seems to be without a very distinct visual style style beyond its overall professionalism. By 1939, the work of Hitchcock, Murnau, Lang, Flaherty, Lubitsch, Eisenstein, Whale, and others had already rampantly shown the potentials of visual style and expressive composition even in the talkie era. Renoir himself had already achieved a masterful job of subtextual visual strategy and meaningful compositions a few years earlier in his powerful GRAND ILLUSION. But that visual confidence is no way in evidence here. Is it because of how many different cinematographers there were?

    I'm sure some will point out this or that scene and all the interesting objects within it, a certain fluidity of camera-work, intelligent use of depth-of-focus, interesting overhead shots in the hallway as people headed off to bed at the château, or some of the shots in the kitchen, the hunt or even the almost surreal party .

    I will grant you that there is there are some fairly impressive shots now and then, with perhaps the opening scene of the reporter on the runway the most "showy." But after one viewing I have yet to be convinced that there is any distinctive visual personality to the picture. Professionalism, yes. The occasional interesting shot, yes. But the visual creativity or a bravura sense of cinematic identity from the director? I thought not.

    But the underlying ideas are what is most important in RULES OF THE GAME, and I give Renoir plenty of credit for successfully exploring them in such a complex way. There are a lot of characters, and we have a strong sense of who they all are once up at the château (contrast this with GOSFORD PARK, where there are a couple of random young men among the upper class whose identities are still a bit obscure when the film is over).

    Renoir seems to be balancing on a difficult tightrope of effectively telling a complex story with characters who are not truly meant to be "real" but rather to some degree caricatures in a larger satirical whole. This is perhaps the greatest ambition of the film, and while I'm not convinced it really works, I'm impressed with the diligent thoroughness of how he has attempted to construct it. Much has been said and written about how the public turned against the film when it was released, but I wonder if the real culprit was that the film seems a bit unmoored from any specific context from which an audience could approach it. It has numerous elements of farce, but it is not a farce. It has very witty lines and eventually an overabundance of buffoonery and implausible behavior (from nearly everyone concerned by the last reel or two), and yet it is not a comedy. During the hunt it juxtaposes shots of servants and gentry with rabbits and pheasants, and you understand the irony intended, but that scene, for example, seems a bit meandering in execution. Is it a fable? Not really that either. I'll admit that a work of art need not comfortably fit into any category, yet one still feels a bit bewildered by what Renoir expects you to make of this narrative, or how he expects you to process the characters.

    For while certain things work beautifully and other things seem contrived, I often felt caught in a structure where Renoir was deceiving me into trying to relate to the characters as real people (and many of the fine performances help that tremendously), only to pull out the rug and say, in essence, "haha! I have a satirical agenda here which requires that the integrity of these characters is expendable." Yes, one could say that it is the paradox of that rug-pulling which represents the genius of the film. No one is immune to the absurdity at the heart of this script. But ultimately, I suspect that I either want the characters to seem genuine, OR I want the satire or farce to be the point. In this film, neither is exactly true.

    I would see this film again, because I agree with others posting here that there is enough in it to warrant additional viewings. It is undeniably an essential landmark in the history of cinema. But I would also agree with those who say it is overrated. For me it lacks the honesty AND the visual distinction of GRAND ILLUSION, and also, despite its ambitions, lacks the basic humanity at the core of something like Bergman's SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT. Admittedly this film came first, but when you have a director with the visual pedigree, philosophically and genetically, of Jean Renoir, I expect a more satisfying sense of the auteur as filmmaker, not merely as writer and actor. Where this picture is concerned, Renoir succeeded best as a thinker, and secondly as its writer and as a director of actors. In terms of control of its visual sense and aesthetic as cinema, I'm not sure he did quite as effective a job as he might have.
  • Jean Renoir said that this was not intended to be a social commentary, and whether he truly intended it to be (he referred to it as, "An exact description of the bourgeoisie of our time.") or not, it is hard to dismiss that it hit close to home. So offended were the masses that the picture was banned. It is said that behind every joke there is truth, and whether this was intended to be a joke or not, Renoir still found truth. One could argue the director's intentions all day, but one matter that cannot be disputed is that this film is extraordinary! As a handful of French men and women converge on a château for a hunting expedition, their love affairs clash with their obligations to society's game. For instance, one cannot leave one's lover to be with another until he has confessed his adultery to her. Attempts to leave with another man's wife are particularly difficult, as well, unless the other man has a mistress of his own. These are but a few rules of the game. The old are for the old, the young are for the young. Members of one social order are forbidden to see members from another, and so on. Combine these rules with a tangled web of countless love affairs between a handful of people, and you can see the madness that erupts during the course of this movie. The parts are all played well, but it is the writing and directing of Renoir that makes the film the masterpiece that it is. Keeping all of these sordid affairs in order is an achievement in its own right, but Renoir moves his pieces all over the board like a skilled chess player, achieving his goal while never forgetting the rules of the game!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Jean Renoir is often considered as one of the masters of French cinema of the thirties. He surprised in the diversity of the genres he tackled during that era: literary adaptation (Madame Bovary, 1933), entertaining comedy (Boudu Sauvé Des Eaux, 1932) or political manifestation (la Marseillaise, 1937). Perhaps more than "la Grande Illusion" (1937), "la Règle Du Jeu" is the magnum opus of that era and perhaps of Renoir's whole career. A movie offering a great variety of tones and a liberty of style which looks like a light comedy but which conceals delicate topics. Given that it was a mirror of French society, it encompassed an unusual construction, a highly worked and unconventional directing, it is easy to understand why the movie was decried by French public in 1939. Throughout the years, it was butchered, was cut several times before fortunately being restored to favor in 1965.

    Renoir had developed in some of his anterior films a scathing critic of French bourgeoisie. Movies like "Nana" (1926), "la Chienne" (1931) or "Boudu Sauvé Des Eaux" (1932) already embodied a wholesale massacre of the upper-class milieu whom Renoir underscored their hypocritical aspect. "La Règle Du Jeu" is his last attack on this society. The filmmaker understood that it was impossible to change the aristocratic world and its shallow rules. The tail end is here to prove it. Robert De la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio) by qualifying Jurieu's death as a "deplorable accident" whereas it was a premeditated murder saved the appearances. But Renoir also knew that the Second World War was about to break out and was going to put an end to the aristocratic domination. So, he felt that it was his duty to give a true image of French bourgeoisie before the tragedy.

    Renoir's magnum opus is an innovative film because the director did the opposite of what a majority of French filmmakers did at that time. Many of Renoir's French peers relished on Hollywood conventions to tell and shoot the stories of their films. Here, the movie isn't built from one character's standpoint but from a group of characters belonging to different social classes, a scheme which was unusual in the thirties. Renoir used this device for a better observation of French society in decay and he was audacious enough to break the rules of narrative continuity and to use a complex directing. For example, he had tapped the depth of field in his wondrous "Partie De Campagne" (1936), here, he used it again with startling results to create memorable images, notably during the party sequence.

    Renoir knew very well the aristocratic world he described in his film because he used to belong to it. He was the son of the famous French impressionist painter, Auguste Renoir. An important part of the film takes place in "la Colinière", a mansion which seems to be virtually cut off from the world, it's the sole world which exists. "La Règle Du Jeu" represents a world with a constricting etiquette, immutable values. Two camps: the smug, posh bourgeoisie and the servants. Its members are walled up in their respective social background and the two most important criteria of distinction are money and property. Apart this hard-hitting assessment, Renoir's genius shines when it comes to underline their mediocrity and lack of education. Jackie tells Mrs La Bruyère that she studies Pre-Colombian art and the latter assimilates it to Buffalo Bill. Moreover, the "rule" in question is based on lie, hypocrisy and injustice. La Chesnaye has an affair with his mistress Geneviève and his wife Christine ignores this. But the sight at the shooting party is a symbolic object because she makes Christine's eyes open about this illicit love affair. But perhaps the most powerful symbol of this society is the automatons. They are clockwork toys just like the rules, the manners which govern an ossified world. Then if Jurieu died at the end of the film, it's because he remained honest in a world of corruption.

    Although there are no direct references to war, there are veiled hints at it throughout Renoir's work. Of course, the famous hunting sequence was often interpreted as warning signs to the tragedy, but also during the party with the "danse macabre", the way the audience reacts: a mirror of French society about the impending tragedy which weighs like a Sword of Damoclès and the military capacities of French army. But there another allusions to war elsewhere in Renoir's work: the tolling of the bells when the guests arrive to la Colinière, the gun shots La Chesnaye can hear when he walks in his domain, his gamekeeper Schmacher's persona... Moreover, there are clear signs that this society is in poor running, notably during the party sequence. The frontier between masters and servants is abolished. An impression of disorder is enhanced by an astute use of the depth of field and long takes during which several actions take place in the same time. Then, Christine who will think of fleeing from this rotten microcosm. But, in the end, La Chesnaye will have saved the appearances. But for how long?

    Every sequence, every character of "la Règle Du Jeu" should be studied in detail. It's an unqualified must for any cine buff. The technical innovations will have an influence on future directors like François Truffaut while the bourgeois satire will be later resumed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Claude Chabrol.
  • I'm sure that pretty much anyone who decides to watch this film will be aware of it's status among many critics as one of the greatest films ever made. It may not be exactly that, but it is still a very good movie.

    The basic story involves a group of wealthy French aristocrats getting together for a weekend's hunting party at a country chateau just before the start of World War 2. However it's not long before the guests, their hosts and the servants are involved in some complex romantic problems.

    The film is beautifully made. Every shot is perfectly well composed and filmed. The film's director, Jean Renoir, was the son of the famous Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir, and Jean Renoir certainly had a good painter's eye himself.

    The film depicts a world of casual cruelty and betrayal hidden behind it's polite and civilised facade. Everyone has to play by the iron-bound social rules ("the rules of the game") and those who don't, suffer for it.

    Cynical, but often very amusing, this film provoked riots when it premiered in France in a severely shortened form. It exists in various different lengths. The version I saw was a restored 110 minute version on DVD.

    This is a film that will not be to all tastes, but it is required viewing for all fans of French cinema or for anyone interested in the history of world cinema.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I was intrigued by a long review on this site detailing the reasons for the reviewer's dislike of the film, since I am also at a loss to understand the film's status. I can defend the film against the reviewer's comments: yes, Christine is vacuous (although also a naive stranger in a strange land, a little like Henry James's Isabel Archer), but hey, she's the Eternal Feminine, loving All Men, and None.

    SPOILERS: As for the ending, it's tragedy (remember The Iliad, where Patrocles borrows Achilles' armour?), and the viewer just has to accept the element of contrivance. It's not supposed to be a surprise; we're supposed to guess, and dread, what's going to happen before the characters do, so that we watch the tragedy unfold with awful inevitablity. And if we haven't gotten to know the character who dies well enough to feel any emotion over the ending, he's the Romantic Hero, rash and reckless, and his death is significant because of what he represents.

    But these are the problems: I intellectually understand what Renoir's characters are supposed to represent, and the archetypal significance their actions and fates are supposed to have. But maybe because they're archetypes rather than individuals, I can't feel anything for them. The movie has a beautiful design, but it just doesn't have any emotional immediacy for me (unlike contemporary Hollywood masterpieces). The plot is very similar to one of my favourite novels, "The Portrait of a Lady," but I'm drawn into that novel because the novel focuses on the heroine ("The Rules of the Game" is divided between the characters, a filmmaking style many defend for vaguely political reasons but which, in my opinion, diffuses emotion) and she is a complex, fascinating character, not a nebulous archetype. And I have to admit I'm fairly annoyed at the chauvinistic portrayal of women in so many "masterpieces" of European film (Fellini is another culprit): here we have the pert, sluttish maid, her fickle tease of a mistress, and her husband's clinging, irrational, hysterical ex-mistress. Unlike great European filmmakers like Ophuls and Dreyer, Renoir doesn't make even the slightest attempt to get inside the heads of his female characters: he doesn't necessarily judge them harshly, but he always perceives them from the outside.

    After 3 viewings, this movie has gotten better for me, so I'm not giving up, and maybe one day it will make an emotional impact on me. Until then, however, I'm on the outside of this movie, too: I can understand why it's supposed to be great, but I just don't care about it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The only thing _The Rules of the Game_ has to offer is great direction. Perhaps too great. I felt that the film was all style with little substance. While the camera movements and mise-en-scene are spectacular, most of the characters are one dimensional. Some are interesting. I liked Octave, the husband, Marceau, and Lisette. But the main two characters are completely uninteresting. Andre is a one dimensional character who appears only once in a while in the film. Christine is a zero-dimensional character who seems to have no thoughts or opinions on her situation whatsoever. Whoever comes to her, she loves them. I didn't believe she was confused for a second. More like she had an empty head.

    SPOILERS:

    But I did enjoy the film a lot before I figured out how it would end. At that point, I threw up my hands and gave up. Most of the film was kind of light with an existential flavor. I liked that. I still didn't like the main two characters, but I did enjoy the mood produced elsewhere in the film. Even when Schumacher was chasing the very funny Marceau around the mansion with a pistol, it was funny. It should have seemed ridiculous, but it seemed in the spirit of French comedy. But when those two were fired, and they mistake Christine for Lisette, everything becomes exceedingly silly. Anyway, it was a very simplistic and cop-out way to end the film. The mood and rhythm were completely disrupted and we are left with a rather hackneyed conclusion. To think, the man who made possibly the greatest anti-war film ever, _La Grande Illusion_, made this weak-kneed film. 7/10.
  • THE RULES OF THE GAME takes place on the eve of World War II at an aristocratic house party at an opulent chateau on a country estate just outside of Paris where the overlapping ‘affaires d'amour' of all social classes are observed with a keen and compassionate eye. Renoir looks to the eighteenth-century world of commedia dell'arte and Mozartian opera, and seamlessly integrates farce with tragedy, using a classical form to offer his audience a profound and multifaceted parable on the disturbing realities that underlie the veneer of contemporary French society, and which are themselves symptomatic of the nascent decline of Old World Europe.

    The film opens with the arrival of a middle-class aviator, André Jurieu (Roland Toutain), who violates the unwritten `rules' of social propriety by declaring to a radio reporter his disappointment that the woman he had been courting, Christine de la Chesnaye (Nora Grégor), is not present at his reception after completing a record-breaking flight across the Atlantic. His apparent indiscretion of making public his private feelings to high society diminishes his initially heroic stature and his skill with the advanced technology of aircraft is not matched by an ability to deal with people, particularly in matters of love. His careless and unmediated show of desire for a highborn lady not only transgresses the received law of proper social conduct but of traditional class distinctions as well. André's reckless pursuit of his desire, of what he could not have, caused him to behave as one beneath his class in order to rise above his station, and in the end, he was destroyed by the overlapping desire and misguided frustration of yet another man of even lesser social status and refinement. The final killing of André is echoed in Alain Resnais' LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961), when we see the mysterious `M' (Sascha Pitoëff) dispatch `X' (Giorgio Albertazzi) with a shotgun for apparently having cuckolded him with `A' (Delphine Seyrig) the year before.

    Renoir's approach to mise-en-scène is especially groundbreaking. He employs seamless cutting as well as long continuous takes and tracking shots which follow characters as the move from one space to the next in a manner that anticipates the graceful circling, panning, sensuously kinetic camera of Welles, Ophüls, Godard, Resnais, Bertolucci and others. He uses deep-focus compositions, avoiding close-ups by putting many actors in the frame at the same time to suggest multiple viewpoints. The balustrades of La Colinière and the languorous tracking shots down the long corridors undoubtedly inspired those in LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD while the checkered floor suggests a harlequinade and a chess board upon which the characters maneuver themselves in relation to each other -- like the similarly checkered shuffleboard floor in Antonioni's LA NOTTE (1961) or the geometrically precise arrangement of the garden in MARIENBAD. (Interestingly enough, Coco Chanel designed the costumes for both THE RULES OF THE GAME and LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD.) Like Antonioni, Renoir frames characters in architectural space, juxtaposing interior and exterior space, such as when the guests arrive at the chateau and a curtain of rain in the foreground obscures their indoor activities. Renoir's fast-moving tracking shots during the rabbit massacre are imitated in Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY with the camera ominously winding its way through the trenches of World War I. These kinds of tracking shots also serve to keep the film from becoming talky and static and to de-emphasize the importance of the dialogue in the cinematic narrative, reducing the interplay of voices to a mere din of savory ‘bon mots' and constant stream of overlapping background chatter.

    Robert de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio), Christine's husband, is fascinated with antique mechanical toy birds and other such gadgets and this fixation suggests an ambivalence toward nineteenth-century Positivism and how an abstract, theoretical, or scientific approach to life alienates people from the actual, spontaneous, concrete experience. In a way, Robert recalls von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim) forever tending to his geranium in Renoir's previous film, GRAND ILLUSION (1937), as well as the character anticipates Steiner (Alain Cuny) in LA DOLCE VITA, who derives more aesthetic pleasure from listening to tape-recorded sounds of nature than hearing the real thing or `M' in LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, who prefers to continuously play God in an inscrutable matchstick game which only he can win -- with the rules of the game known only to him -- instead of dealing with messy, unpredictable human relationships.

    As an aristocratic Jew, Robert de la Chesnaye could be a composite of Dalio's rich young mercantile Jew, Rosenthal, and the generous, self-sacrificing French nobleman, De Boeldieu, in GRAND ILLUSION. When a chef makes an anti-Semitic slight against Robert, revealing the bigotry of the French working classes, it evokes the controversy surrounding the Dreyfuss Affair. The General's final comment that Robert is one of a `dying breed' not only heralds the decay of aristocratic privilege but, in from the vantage point of hindsight, also seems a chilling spectre of the Holocaust. Christine's Austrian origin alludes to the looming war with Germany and seems a prediction of France's collaboration under the Vichy régime. The indiscriminate destruction of life in the rabbit and pheasant hunt sequence forecasts the waste and destruction of the war to come.

    Robert's comment that he `does not want any fences' separating people seems to indicate the gradual dissolution of the old class systems and nationalistic loyalties, and indeed, of all the traditional illusions about human nature and civilization that are to be swept away by the war. The most cryptic sign is the penultimate ‘danse macabre,' echoed in the séance and ritual journey to the realm of the dead in LA DOLCE VITA, suggesting that Renoir's superficial roundelay in THE RULES OF THE GAME is really a dance of death heralding the apocalyptic destruction of the old Europe.
  • So whether you'd like to see it this way or not, this is basically one gigantic booty call tale, each character in the story after a particular man or woman, him or herself after another. Sure, it's "love", but really hardly more than a bunch of booty calls all mingled up together to constitute a plot. It's somewhat fun to watch, but there's no actual moral or anything valuable depicted during or at the end of the film.

    The cinematography is quite superb, and a treat for cinephiles, in particular those long one-take sequences with the camera traveling through entire rooms and corridors of the prestigious chateau the film takes place in.

    But the dialog is neither particularly stale nor interesting, it simply fulfills its obligation and guides the viewer through the various scenes knitted together as the storyline progresses.

    The characters are endearing for the ride to some extent but not nearly classics. The ending is fairly predictable and seems to deliver a long awaited main event in that whole romantic mess that lingers for practically two hours, probably a bit much for what it's got in store and proposes to the viewer.

    5/10.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    SPOILER

    I won't comment at great length about this movie, because it's been covered very well by several other reviewers, and I would be repetitious. I'll say only that I found the movie very interesting in a lot of ways, and certain aspects of it were brilliantly made, but overall, I found it unsatisfying. I suspect that is so for the same reason that another example of a "classic" of a vanished era, the original "Ben-Hur" novel is inaccessible to readers today (I speak of the original text, not any "modern" adaptations, or either of the movies). It addresses a set of issues that were long ago rendered inert and void, and it does so using a language that few of us today can understand, much less appreciate.

    It's hard to imagine a film today, for example, criticizing the behavior of the upper classes being censured as proletarian propaganda. Criticism of the upper classes is now de rigeur, whether it's fair or not.

    I also found certain scenes overbearing and crude. The rabbit hunt "foreshadows" the brutality of the murder at the end of the film in about the same way that the sun coming up in the morning "foreshadows" that day has begun. Personally, I also found the repeated shots of rabbits being blown to pieces, twitching frantically, then stretching in a final death throe disturbing and unnecessary.

    In short, the main value I find in this movie is in its historical interest; in the fact that the statement it made, so uncontroversial today, was once reviled and attacked.
  • One of the ways in which a film of some age can be immediately identified as great is that we do not really notice that it is old. The same elements that attract us contemporarily are as quickly noted in the landmark movies of yesteryear. So it is with `The Rules of the Game', Jean Renoir's flamboyantly provocative study of class distinction and human folly.

    Long heralded as one of the great films of all time, it is of such complexity and has so much great dialogue that in fairness it should be viewed several times. There are so many complex shots and methods of capturing moments that one might discover a new item with each visit. These arrangements run the gamut of half a dozen actors criss-crossing the scope of a shot or the use of mirrors to perhaps focus our attention on something Renoir wants us to appreciate or tuck away for later rumination.

    As the movie opens, Lise Elena (as the on-the-scene radio reporter) is perfect in conveying the energy and attention/attraction a record-setting Trans-Atlantic flight would have attracted at the time; the drama of the moment as pilot André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) lands amid pandemonium is caught exactly as it might occur. Renoir is giving us a hero that we almost immediately find is flawed and does not stand up to close inspection, as do none of the great political figures of that time. As the film progresses the hero Jurieux is found wanting in every regard, as it turns out.

    Paulette Dubost (as the maid, Lisette) is introduced early as attendant to a key figure - Christine de la Cheyniest (played by Nora Gregor) – and is so heartbreakingly pretty even watching her eat an apple is a guilty pleasure. Christine turns out to be the hub of a wheel of fascination, deception, and unrequited love yet herself is only as exotic as her foreign background. This Mutt and Jeff pairing is nicely shown in drawing room scenes as the high-society semi-charmer is fawned over by the lovely Lisette.

    The players intermingle primarily at the chateau of Christine's husband Robert (played by Dalio) and what unfolds is a tale that documents the excesses of both classes. We might say we see a series of interpersonal clashes amidst clueless-in-love slackers with the occasional agenda-wielding guest thrown in; but all this is recorded with just the right touch of realism. So we find that Christine's heart may well lie with the adoring Jurieux, that Lisette is not exactly pining for her gamekeeper husband Schumacher, Robert's lover is not sure of her need for him (or he of his feelings for her) and throughout poor Octave remains a stolid yet curiously uncommitted friend to all.

    The only aspect of the film that does not come across well is the sometimes overly hammy acting of some of the players. But with the exception of Renoir himself (playing Octave) this over-the-topness comes in fits and starts, never overwhelming us at all. Renoir's Octave could have been played by Jackie Gleason to great effect.

    Very noticeable to current viewers is the great similarity of the more recent `Gosford Park' to this 1939 Jean Renoir film. While Robert Altman's film focuses on class differences so piquantly, `Rules' is actually more sublime. But that hanky-panky and its inevitably hurtful consequence knows no class – despite `Rules' – could not be more fascinating than the depiction given it by Renoir in this film.

    Rating: Four Stars.
  • Every now and then, a firefight breaks out on one of the boards about this film. Amid the pomposity of the latest, DFC-2 thoughtfully wrote: "This is one film, perhaps because of its director and precarious early history, that has taken on a halo and the requisite critical support to nullify any criticism. The only question is: Is it truly that much better or different or has hyperbole and elaborate rationalisation been canonised as truth?" Which is the real heart of the issue when it comes to why I found myself taking against this film so violently.

    For many people it's not enough to like the film - the dissenters have to be proved wrong. Objective opinion isn't allowed. Only acceptance of a proscribed opinion is acceptable. Anything less is a fault not of the film or a difference in personal taste but of the character of the viewer. I was involved in one dispute over on European Film about this a couple of years ago, dismissed as one of the 'army of knuckle-dragging Nantherthal British morons' that poster Paul Panzer was so fond of racially berating because it was impossible for him to accept anyone else's opinion of the film as being as valid as his own. The reason for the anti-British sentiments was, I think, because it had just been reissued in the UK and done very, very badly at the box-office. Unlike other posters, he didn't claim my fellow soldiers were unable to understand it but that we had not seen it at all because no-one who saw it could not like it.

    I recently posted on a thread about overrated films, and listed this as one of the two worst films I've ever seen (BREATHLESS was the other, but that's another story). I just thought it was a bad film, plain and simple, more CARRY ON UP THE Château than high art. There are hundreds of worse films, but unlike RULES, no-one is claiming THE WINTER WARRIOR or Timbo Hines' WAR OF THE WORLDS are all-time greats, so the fall from expectation to reality isn't so hard. Thing is, would I have had such a low opinion of the film if it weren't for the following factors?

    1. The film's reputation as one of the five greatest films of all time. I've never found any reason to agree with this. It just creates a gulf of disappointment when it just turns out to be a silly bedtime farce. I think LA GRAND ILLUSION suffers from the same problem, although its a much better film, BTW. It's as over-hyped as any summer blockbuster popcorn flick.

    2. The arrogance of many of its defenders. Now I DON'T mean all the posters here who like the film. Some of them have been very reasonable about it, some do see that people have their reasons for disliking it. But there's still the stink that this is a film you HAVE to like to be taken seriously.

    3. The insecurity of many of its defenders. Again, this does not apply to all the posters here. But there is a desperate need to cling to the supremacy of one set opinion as a mark of, to paraphrase CFK, being the 'right kind of person/film buff.' The phrase Emperor's New Clothes ring any bells?

    4. Snobbery towards the initial audience. The whole thing about audiences of the day 'getting it wrong' or not understanding the film. Who says they didn't? Maybe they understood it too well, and THAT's why it flopped? Maybe they too found it's artificiality boring, it's acting bad, it's plot plain silly.

    5. Reading too much into the history. We keep on getting parallels to Nazi Germany and the assumption it's a comment on fascism and indifference. I don't buy that for one second. Schumacher isn't some proto-Nazi. He's a very French figure of ridicule. He's not even German but one of those Alsatian Franco-Germans whose nationality changes with the borders after each new war. What he represents is the kind of old fashioned moral puritanism that later found its self-flagellating expression in the Vichy government and its moral renewal/hypocrisy. He's not a prophecy but a reflection of a state of mind the French flit to and fro between over the years as the wind changes direction. You'll find the same thing in America with the Moral Majority.

    This is a film that needs to be seen with low expectations and an open mind. The more people insist on its undeniable greatness, the worse it looks, the more it disappoints.

    Bottom line, to me the film is just another country house sex comedy. It's just the accident of history that has seen its importance blown out of all proportion as people try to explain away its failure and create a myth that the film cannot live up to for many people. And a lot of people on that long-forgotten firefight disliked the film just as a lot liked it. It divides opinions, which is one thing in its favour. But I have found that some of the people it appeals to are the very kind of narrow-minded self-important snobs obsessed with invisible rules that the film takes the p*ss out of so amateurishly. The best joke in the film is that it appeals to EXACTLY the kind of people it is attacking!
  • mmmopens18 October 2000
    How can words do justice to this dream of a film? It is one of a dozen or so movies in all film history where just everything seems to have gone right. The casting is perfect, it is technically so seamless to make discussion of that side of the film crass, and the script is one of the great narratives in any medium of its century. The characterisation is absolutely matchless. I cannot think of a film with characters as rich as Lisette, the maid, la Chesnaye, the unfaithful aristocrat, Marceau the poacher, and, above all, Renoir's bumbling Octave who sets the tragic events in motion. Great dramatic art, of which this is arguably the cinema's finest example, is usually characterised by irony. La Règle du Jeu has it in spades. In the sensational final 25 minutes, when enemies become friends, and friends enemies, the cinema seems to take off in flight raising this great art to undreamed of heights. It is just so perfect, it makes you want to weep.
  • This is the film I usually think of as my favorite of all time. It is perhaps the closest that cinema has come to the perfection of a Mozart opera. I'm thinking of "Marriage of Figaro" and "Cosi fan Tutte" in particular as the Mozart operas most closely related to Renoir's cinema masterpiece. Like those operas, there is a masterfully proportioned blend of outrageous humor and deep pathos. It is a comedy, but it is a particularly civilized form of comedy that you will not encounter in another film, except maybe in some films of Charlie Chaplin. Above every human situation in the convoluted plot there is the all-pervading sadness for a fading civilization about to be extinguished. The ambiguities of that civilization are perfectly captured in two hours of cinematic heaven. Everything about this film is extraordinary, and I long to see it issued on DVD, and only Criterion will be able to do it justice. I hope they will turn to it soon!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It is a movie of superlatives: masterpiece, classic, cult, reference, influential, lesson of cinema, best French film ever, "the movie of movies" (Truffaut). When it came out in 1939, it was a relative failure, albeit not as complete as Renoir himself believed. Critics were balanced. Attendance was low but it was summer and there was turmoil. It was shortened and then banned (as were some other films). After WWII it had limited success. Only in 1959 was the present version shown, close to the original one: it became an instant hit and has remained so ever since. It is the only picture that has always been in the top 10 of Sight & Sound recurring poll: #10 in 1952, between #2 and #4 afterwards.

    Many articles and books were published about this movie: I will try to summarise the main findings.

    *** WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS ***

    IMAGE. It is the first film, two years before "Citizen Kane", to use so masterly and purposefully depth of field, long shots and camera movements: we see lengthy action in foreground and background. This allows to follow antagonist forces at the same time: master/servants, men/women, truth/lie, conventions/instinct, etc. This complexity illustrates the key words of Robert de La Cheyniest: "Everyone has one's reasons." Just an example: when Christine explains her relationship with Jurieux, Robert and Octave move behind her. First they are worried, then they look happy and fool around. Hence Christine's speech can be heard at two different levels: sincere or clever talk to solve a mess. Afterwards the camera moves out and as we see other characters we realise her speech was interpreted as social formality.

    Images throughout the movie are superb, but Renoir warns us: image is not truth, because truth is complex. For instance when Christine with the binocular sees her husband kissing Geneviève: she thinks he is cheating, while actually he is breaking up.

    STRUCTURE. As the title hints, the main theme is social rules versus human instinct. The hunting scene situated precisely in the middle of the movie is pivotal. (This scene is a masterpiece in itself: it follows the point of view of the animals massacred and brilliantly alternates general/specific and long/short shots.) Before, etiquette is dominant: Robert refused to leave Geneviève, hunters are polite ("This pheasant was yours" – "No, it was yours"), everybody plays the social game. The cruel hunt seems to unleash primary instincts: afterwards, the same two hunters argue about another pheasant, people laugh when the general tells about a mortal hunting accident, Robert dismisses Geneviève, Jurieux bluntly tells Jackie he doesn't love her. This revealing of passions will climax in the final party where people will argue, fight and eventually kill.

    The way action flows from one scene to the other is outstanding, for instance at the beginning. First located at the airport, we move to Christine's room through radio broadcast, then to Robert's as Christine walks to him, then to Geneviève's apartment through a phone call. This fluid, efficient movement might now seem obvious, however at the time it was ground-breaking.

    SYMBOLS. They abound but discreetly to illustrate the main themes. For instance, persons are shown as prisoners of social conventions: they are associated to various automats, statues and costumes. When Robert meets Geneviève in her apartment, we see the two characters among statues in the background. Progressively, the shots get closer and closer until finally they focus on their faces just next to the statues: the similarity becomes striking.

    During the party in the castle at the end, Robert shows his huge automat. The camera moves on the puppet's faces then on his: again he is assimilated to a social automat. However there is more: the female painting and the three male puppets can be linked to the actual love stories (Lisette + Schumacher/Marceau/Octave or Christine + Jurieux/St Aubin/Octave/Robert shown in the flesh).

    Later on during the party, an automated piano symbolically plays on its own the "Macabre dance" by Saint-Saëns and skeletons enter the stage. We have moved into another dimension and know something will go wrong. However there is more: Schumacher comes into the room from behind a curtain just as the skeletons did. He is hence associated to death and will be the one delivering it.

    At the end, Robert gives the closing speech at the top of stairs in front of the persons gathered below, just as if he were on stage: the social performance finally triumphs, celebrated by off-screen music playing for the first time. Hence, with the elimination of the disturbing element (Jurieux), conventions can resume as before. Society needs sacrifices to carry on. As we see with all these examples, the movie plays on symbols at different levels: one is obvious, one is concealed.

    CHARACTERS. Complexity again: they arouse both attraction and contempt. Robert is smart and classy, but only values property. Schumacher is a brute but his grief at the end is touching. Marceau is funny but deceitful. Lisette is charming but manipulative. Octave is sweet but eventually pathetic. Some characters evolve, notably Christine who at first is lost in social rules. She then tries to comply with them: she pretends to Geneviève she knew about her relationship with her husband and also tries to cheat on him, when actually all she wants is love and children. At the end she says this terrible sentence in a harsh tone to Jackie who is crumbling after Jurieux's death: "People are looking at us!"

    STYLES. The movie is one of the first to so efficiently mix styles: drama, comedy, thriller, social, historical. On this last point, Renoir wanted to show society at the eve of WWII, however some themes are still valid today (for instance Octave's speech about lying).

    The above review only rapidly highlights a few qualities of this rich, multi-level movie. It has to be seen and seen again: "We watch it as we listen to a symphony" (Bazin).
  • katz15518 October 2005
    I just watched this movie and I must say it was terrible. I've been reading about Renoir and I was wholly disappointed. I was expecting something revolutionary, something really unique, but instead I found it to be cliché and boring. I suppose one could argue that that was "the whole point of the movie" that the upper class life was trite and boring, and that's all well and good, say what you must, but a good filmmaker need not make the movie trite and boring to prove those same qualities as a point about society. The direction was blasé, although i did enjoy the sets and the use of space. The writing was mostly predictable, and when it wasn't, it was instead, idiotic. The characters were ridiculous and not just because they were supposed to be. They were ridiculous in the way Days of Our Lives characters are ridiculous. Which leads me to my overall point of the movie: This disappointing film seems to be a precursor for today's mind-rotting, brain-boiling television soap operas. Stick this two hour movie on the WB, I'm sure couch potatoes would love to follow it as a six-week mini series, right after Smallville or One Tree Hill, maybe? Maybe Fox would like to pick it up, stick it before Lost. Although the movie's historical context and history helps the film to be a bit more impressive and allows a viewer to appreciate it in some respect, it does not save the film. Only watch this movie if it's free and you've got absolutely nothing else to do for two hours, or if you have to write a term paper on it and it's 75% of your grade. if it's any lower than 75%, try and find a cliff notes version.
  • Not all cake that looks good from the outside is good as its dancing down your throat. From a distance, The Rules of the Game looks visually stunning; but inside the package lies a broken story full of jumbled story lines, weak dialogue, shallow decisions, bizarre actions, characters that come out of nowhere, and character that literally disappear from the flick. The director has a good eye for shots, but the story needed oh so much help. Yes, I am fully aware that it's important in the history of film. But, an example I've used before; Faceball 2000 is the first first-person shooter game in console history. Does it make the game any good being a contributor? Of course not, but we are aware of its existence and bookmark in history. The Rules of the Game is a benchmark, much like how the French Revolution is a bookmark, one some would rather not talk about. However, I've already started babbling about the flick, might as well finish---something I was wishing the film could do.

    He loves her. She loves him. He doesn't love her. She does love him but not that much. She wishes he could love her. He is a nice guy that secretly loves her. She is an idiot that loves someone else. Rabbits are hunted. This is more or less the plot of the movie. Yes, there are plenty of underlying details and plenty of themes explored, but it doesn't make up for the ridiculousness of the plot line involving several rich socialites and the web of love they are weaving (that escalates and involves more people during the climax at a dinner). The web isn't the annoying part; it's the ability to change your mind many times as the movie progresses as to whom you are attracted to, and just how much you are attracted to them. It strips away from the realism of the movie, and strips away at the credibility of the writing staff. Film historians love to point out that the movie is old and one mustn't watch the movie with a modern-day eye. My rebuttal is to watch some classic Charlie Chaplin, whose work came out mostly before this, and then see a good story with good themes.

    The director knows how to craft a good shot and move the camera in a motion that involves the audience and makes them a member of the socialite clan. However, this is contradicted with the stupid-looking fights, the constant fainting, and one of the more disgusting scenes in cinema history: the extended sequence of rabbits getting shot. What on earth is going on when a movie is praised for its camera-work as it spends five minutes showing animals getting shot at? First off, the movie is long enough as it is, second off it doesn't contribute much to the plot, third off its just disgusting altogether. The director doesn't deserve to have his name mentioned in this paragraph for that sequence alone.

    Might as well mention him in this paragraph. Eh, not yet. The acting of the movie is a mixed bag, too bad the dialogue doesn't help them much. Their true acting chops can be revealed towards the end, as each of the main characters is emotionally stripped and you see each of their flaws and anxieties towards the end. Too bad the ending comes out of nowhere, and really doesn't close out the story. After 100-plus minutes of bickering and dialogue-heavy conversations that really doesn't reveal anything other than love and lust, one would hope for an ending that can tie all loose ends. Not here.

    What is it with the forgiveness of flaws in older movies? The theme of love here is butchered to a point of embarrassment. Just like Romeo and Juliet, the way love is presented here is all wrong. This isn't love; this is a lot of lust lusting about through the entire picture. Morality is shot in the foot and at the face as we see constant cheating, on-camera, and off-camera through verbal clues. From the beginning as the pilot curses the heavens and the woman he is "in love with," to the end as the backstabbing reaches a maximum level, this predates MTV's Real World. The difference is: this movie is considered a masterpiece. Why?

    Bottom Line: Studying film becomes tough sometimes simply because of the requirement to appreciate and fall in love with several crucial movies of the early 20th century. Another trashy movie like this makes me almost want to switch majors, or change my title to "Modern-Day Film Critic." If this title doesn't exist, I shall be the first to achieve this because despite the camera-work, there isn't much positive to say about this movie. The story is a mess, the characters aren't that likable, there is very little comedy, there is very little entertainment value, and the tastelessness of it all just hampers the experience even more. Unless you want to cue this movie or copy the way the camera captures all that is going on, there is no reason whatsoever to watch this French mess. Bah, forget the use of decent English words: this movie sucks. There. Take my film degree if I am required to like it. Take it.

    P.S. The director's name is Jean Renoir.
  • I am somewhat puzzled after having watched this acclaimed as a classical film. If this is supposed to be a comedy, it lacks any fun whatsoever, if it pretends to be a drama, it is hilarious, if it tries to be something in between, it just fully fails.

    A set of personages with intermingled love and friendship relationships that come from nowhere, develop without any sense in a series of ridiculous scenes, and end in... nothing at all. What's the point??. Not a single personage raises any sympathy or concern for him/her, no personage is developed so that you can understand his/her motivations and the reason why is behaving in such a senseless way (everybody does in the film).

    Is the film maybe a criticism against aristocracy/bourgeoisie?... if so I can't imagine a more clumsy way to do it!... Well, let's leave it at that. Mi first attempt with Jean Renoir, and for sure the last one!
  • This is an example of cult movie, that is not. By the time the film was in cinemas it was horrible results, and it is logical.The film is apparently a comedy with a drama include, but the film was so boring... The history was simple, a group of rich french meets in a big house for a hunting, ant it happens a lot of confusions and unexpected romances. The film is not more much, it is so slow and boring... that the viewer wants that film just finish. You can find similitudes with the style of Lubitsch, but Lubitch's titles are more interesting and dynamic than this one. Not recommendable for common viewer, only for people interested in story of cinema
  • Warning: Spoilers
    If you are reading this comment page, you will see only two (semi-) negative reviews (one of the two, this one, split up into two). They're both mine. Every other one calls The Rules of the Game one of the best films ever made. I saw it for the first time right around one year ago in a class in which we had already seen such masterpieces as L'Atalante, Quai des Brumes, and La Grande Illusion. All three are on my personal top 100 list. And I've seen other French films within a half-decade's or so radius that are nearly on my top 100 list - Le million, A nous la liberte, Children of Paradise, and Beauty and the Beast.

    The Grand Illusion was the film we watched prior to this one, and I liked it quite a bit. I didn't quite think it was a masterpiece, but I had an inkling that the poor VHS quality may have been the fault. I bought the Criterion DVD, which was just recently printed from the master print that had been confiscated by Nazis and stored away in Berlin. Anyhow, even before I LOVED The Grand Illusion, I thought it was great. Then I saw Rules of the Game, and I was bewildered. What had happened to Renoir in the two years between Grand Illusion and this? I gave it a 7/10 on imdb, mostly because I did recognize Renoir's direction as being excellent (90% of the flaws are in the script, 0% in the direction or technical aspects; the final 10% can be found in the performances) and wrote a review in which my ultimate verdict was "weak-kneed." During the next class period, everyone was exclaiming how much they loved Rules of the Game. Had I missed something? I didn't admit so at the time, but, as I began to read more and more of how great people thought it was, my own confidence in my opinion began to falter. I had no real desire to see it once again, but I always felt that I should. When I began visiting movie message boards (the ones on imdb), I posed the question: "Why is Rules of the Game so great? I can't figure it out myself." A ton of people gave very helpful explanations, especially on how to look at the characters of Christine and Andre, both of whom I had found lame when I had first seen the film. Many proposed themes found here, but, really, there wasn't any particular theme proposed that I thought I had missed the first time around. I posted that discussion in June. Almost instantly, it appeared on TCM, which made it all feel like an omen. I taped it, but I still put off watching it. Now, four months later, a full year after I first saw it, I finally sat down and watched it again.

    My verdict is almost exactly the same. The first time around, I handed it a low 7/10. Now, I raise it to the glorious height of a high 7/10. Little consolation to Rules of the Game fans. A 7/10 is a 7/10 on the imdb. So what has changed about my perception of the film? This time, Christine came off better. I called her a "zero-dimensional character" below, "who says 'I love you' to whichever man comes up to her arbitrarily" (not exact quotations, mind you). This time around, I sympathized with her much more. I see her as a stranger in a strange land who has been taken advantage of by La Chesnay (Maurice Dalio, whom I didn't recognize as Rosenthal from La Grande Illusion last time; that's actually referenced in this film, with specific reference to La Chesnay's Jewishness). She's kind, and she doesn't really know how to handle men, especially romantics like Andre.

    SPOILERS: Everything else I said in my review stands. Andre is still a one-dimensional character with whom I really wish we could spend more time in order to understand him better. He's barely in the film, and his death has no impact whatsoever. Basically, the structure of the film is what is "weak-kneed." The first half or so is delicious, up until the masquerade. Everything becomes exceedingly ridiculous, not too bad, but Renoir is trying to be funny, as you can tell from Schumacher's Loony Toons-like pursuit of Marceau, the guests' reactions to the gunfire, Genevieve's drunken tantrum, and the fisticuffs between La Chesnay and Andre. I don't find any of it funny (and neither did that first audience with whom I watched it, although everyone claimed to love the film) and most of it I find hard to believe, especially Schumacher's behavior. I believe that he'd be insanely angry, but I don't buy that he goes about shooting randomly.

    But it is especially in the final sequence, after most of the unimportant guests go to their rooms, that the narrative falls completely to pieces. I cannot think of a more contrived 30 minutes in all of filmdom. It's almost insulting. Okay, say that I accepted the wackiness of Schumacher's blasting away indoors. How the heck do I accept that he and Marceau are now fine with each other? This is Renoir's old notion that people who are in the same boat will naturally be amigos (the French and Chinese farmers paradigm). I buy this when we're talking about Marechal and Rosenthal, Marechal and Elsa, or Boedlieu and Rauffenstein in The Grand Illusion, but, when Schumacher has just been attempting to whack Marceau for the last hour, and ended up without wife or job on account of it, this man's going to want to whack his nemesis even harder when they get outside (at least Renoir has Marceau flinch when he sees Schumacher). I find it even less believable that Marceau would go along with the murder of Lisette's other love, since when did we ever see that he was the jealous or vengeful type? If Marceau had disappeared and Schumacher had acted alone, then I'd be a little more accepting.
  • This is a French sex farce from 1939 that has an amazingly positive reputation today. In its day, I'm sure it probably did well in the theaters, but in this day and age it just seemed really old and tired to me. This is not because I hate old films or French films--I love both if done well. However, I just found myself pretty bored by the picture and felt that watching practically EVERYONE (from the rich jet-setters to the servants) bouncing from partner to partner was not my cup of tea. It actually was rather funny that although practically everyone was cheating on their spouses in the film, they never really seemed to get around to having sex. Mostly, they just seemed to go through the motions of wooing and sneaking about instead of any real infidelity.

    Although a few Hollywood films have similar story elements, this movie stands in sharp contrast to the average American film. The French in the 1930s would probably have seen most Americans in films of the day as uptight and too conventional, while Americans would have been amazed at how fixated the French were on infidelity. Even way back then, the differences in the two cultures seem extreme when we view them in film.

    By the way, Octave is actually played by the director, Jean Renoir.
  • zetes23 October 2001
    Warning: Spoilers
    But Renoir still sets the whole death scene up so clumsily that I had a strong desire to shut the tape off. I predicted it from the second Lisette lends Christine her coat. And then when Andre is sent there, well, since I didn't care a lick about him in the first place, I certainly didn't care that he was dead, so to hinge the climax around that death doesn't do a thing for me emotionally. Intellectually, it seems to me that the film just had to end, and to kill off Andre was the simplest way to end it.

    END SPOILERS: Now, for the themes. Supposedly that is what convinces people to find this one so spectacular. It is mostly about the rules by which the rich have to abide, as well as the rules of the servants, and how these two classes interact. The themes are noble, but I don't think the film succeeds all too well in presenting them. Well, it doesn't do so poorly, but compared to The Grand Illusion, their presentation here is, well, weak-kneed. Rules of the Game deserves only to be perceived as a lesser but important work of a master filmmaker.

    That's what particularly gets my goat, too: the fact that so many want to deify Rules of the Game, but, as I see it, they only want to do so to defame or, at the very least, depreciate The Grand Illusion. And it's nothing at all but pedantry. The Grand Illusion was immediately accepted as a masterpiece and was, if not the first, one of the first foreign films nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, an association that is terribly xenophobic. Orson Welles once said that, if he could preserve one film for all time, it would be The Grand Illusion. Rules of the Game was despised upon its first release (which isn't very fair either; I ought to see if I can find some early reviews from France). Renoir re-edited the film, which is the version we have now, if I'm remembering correctly. It still went neglected for years, and was re-discovered after the war. I guess it was at this point that it began to gain favor. Francois Truffaut, in the Hitchcock interview book (page 267 if you have the most recent edition, near the start of the final chapter) puts it in the category of "great flawed films," which, he says, often reveal more about their maker than do the acknowledged masterpieces but are flawed somehow in the script or execution. I might be fine with the whole matter if the Rules of the Game fanatics recognized its flaws, but everyone seems to think it is one of the most perfect films ever created. I think it has ended up at #2 in Sight and Sound's poll of the best films ever, which they take every ten years, for at least the last two or three decades.

    Cineastes pick Rules of the Game up like they would a stray cat. It begins its second life as a cult film, but then soon enough it is so exalted as to be thought of as one of the best films ever made by those who originally adopted it. Soon, though, as those types of people want to impress others with their knowledge, wanting least to proclaim a film that even lay people already know is a masterpiece a masterpiece (e.g., The Grand Illusion), they must call upon a lesser-seen film like Rules of the Game. They certainly don't want to be perceived as a lay person! Quickly, they convince even themselves that Rules of the Game is not only better than The Grand Illusion, but much, much better, or, for another example, that the studio-neutered The Magnificent Ambersons is better than Citizen Kane or, for yet another example, The Godfather II is better than the original, or that Kundun is better than Raging Bull or, another Scorsese example, The King of Comedy is better than Taxi Driver, these latter two opinions you may be hearing much more often in twenty or thirty years judging from some of the favorite alternative critics and some of the film buffs I've been speaking to over the last couple of years. Again, they don't want to be perceived as lay persons. The great irony of this is that Rules of the Game shows characters of lower class wanting desperately to be perceived as upper class.

    So what happens when Rules of the Game is perceived as too well known? Then what will be the favorite Renoir film to all who claim to be hip? Nana? Toni? The Southerner or The River? How about La Bete Humane? Maybe I should try to find one of these films so that I can get a head start on being an ultra-cool cineaste!
  • My Rating : 9/10

    Constantly lauded as one of the greatest movies ever made, The Rules of the Game is supposed to be a humorous take on the bourgeoisie during the world wars and expose the bitter truths of the French high society in a subtle, light-hearted manner.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This farce about love, flirtation and decadence in the upper class society was too much for the rich and famous when this Jean Renoir film premiered in France before the outbreak of the second world war in 1939. The film got bad reviews, and some of the angry viewers trashed interiors, and on of the premiere cinemas was fire lit with a newspaper by an angry cinema goer. Obviously one from the aristocracy, and no wonder they were upset. Because in this film Renoir ridicules the rich and famous in a way that must have been provocative.

    After a rather insightful, but still rather static start, where we get to see the importance if radio and mechanical playing dolls and music boxes, leading up to when we meet the whole ensemble at a big mansion party, where also a madly-in-love pilot is maneuvered in thanks to help from a friend. The weekend is about hunting rabbits and women, and eventually men. The film winds up like a bad party, with crying and a messy love/jealousy lite night when the whole party is going to pieces. Still it ends, in a way, quite happy.

    The film is, of course, very 1939, but has remarkable quality, though it was thought lost, as both the original rolls were bombed to bits during the war, as well as most copies were burnt both by the French haters, as well as the German occupiers the following years. They also hated the film for more than one reason. Some copies was found 17 years later, which made it possible to restore all, except one scene, according to Renoir himself.

    The film ridicules also the light hearted and easily scared and hysterical women (this is why women tend to like this film less than men), though it's really the men which I think come out silly here, the Jews and also have a couple of other things we today actually would find non appropriate. But then this was back in 1939.

    Jean Renoir plays one of the more significant roles himself, as the guy bounding the whole charade together. It's easy to see this film has influenced many later film makers and novel writers in many countries. I find many scenes which resembles scenes I've seen before in films which has come out far later. I would even count in late films like Von Triers "Melancholy" and some of the great ensemble films by Robert Altman. So you could surely say this is essential, and is also often used as a film reference for film students.

    After the slow start, the film really rolls on to be significant and a cut above most if the Hollywood films from the same time era. The instruction and acting is the thing assuring this. It doesn't hurt that the film was regarded as a provocation to the rich back then, and the same to the Nazis. A classic!
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