I finally sat down and really watched this film. I had sort of half watched it on tv a year or so ago. It really is a great masterpiece.
I like how the love triangle(s) of the upper class are contrasted/compared with a love triangle among the servants. Such simple and beautiful construction, and yet so rich and full of shadows. The death of the hero is so sad, and the society around him is almost relieved because his sincerity is a reproach to them and he’s an emotional renegade. Why does “the game” have to have such repressive rules?
Gradually we see how all of these people — cold and unruffled — have a secret ache gnawing at them, a sense of unfulfillment. My favorite line when La Chesnaye says, “My guests wish to keep their lives, though I can’t imagine why.”
David Thomson has remarked on the similarities between Renoir and Bunuel and I notice them very strongly here. Renoir must have seen L’Age d’Or because this film borders on the terse, anti-rich satire of that surrealist masterpiece. Also, this film looks forward to Bunuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid (in the way that outside poilitical stresses show up as violence within a wealthy household) and The Exterminating Angel (in the way the dinner guests say inane things to each other).
It’s actually beyond me to describe all the beauty of this film. And Renoir himself is excellent in the role of Octave.
I always think of GATSBY and RULES OF THE GAME…all those beautiful, vain, childish people.
well, everyone has his reasons.
It boggles my mind that the audience rioted at the premier of this movie — they hated it. I can see how it is somewhat provocative, but still… it’s sad to think how that saddened Renoir. The Rules of the Game wans’t appreciated until the 1960s, when some young cineastes rescued it from the scrapheap by printing a new restored cut from the original negative. To think how close we came to having only a butchered cut of this film, like Greed, or losing it altogether.
There are a couple of scenes where Renoir shows an empty frame and two people talking off camera before they move in to occupy the frame. It’s a strange technique, one that might be meant to show the emptiness of the people, or the ways in which they are unable to completely grasp their lives. They occupy space, but that’s about it. And yet, Renoir is never unkind. You don’t leave this film hating everybody, or anyone for that matter. And that is perhaps the most quietly disturbing thing about it. Yes, everyone has his reasons, and how terrible it is to really see that up close.
i still havent gotten into this film. ive watched it twice, and both times i wondered how it got such a high reputation. i keep missing something, i guess.
im much more into “grande illusion”. i find all the emotion and beauty in that film that others see so strongly in “rules”.
I love the film for its nimbleness, unexpected oscillations, unique mix of tones and genre (farce, tragedy, romance, political satire..), outstanding choreography, deep focus, compositions, ensemble cast ( Princess Stahrenberg, considered by some inadequate as Christine, certainly included), perkiness (and who was ever perkier than Paulette Dubost as Lisette?), wit, warmth, social comment, smooth camerawork, modesty, theatre, spatial exploration, natural beauty, complexity, easygoing lightness of touch, and, forget Cleopatra, its infinite variety. My only, quite serious, reservation is over the rabbit hunt- not for its effect and message, but more over whether such slaughter was necessary, or would have happened anyway. This issue was covered in another thread over treatment of animals, who shouldn’t be killed for entertainment imo.
Yes, and what makes the hunting scene so brutal is that Christine, who hated to watch even rabbits and pheasants getting shot, has to watch something much more horrible in the final scenes, which she is equally powerless to prevent.
Re the deep focus – they had special lenses made for The Rules, which were at that time the most powerful lenses ever made for depth-of-field cinematography.
Yes and it doesn’t draw attention to such strengths, which is what i meant by modesty. There’s no Wellesian “look at me” demand for superlatives. Only the very greatest directors achieve such mastery and richness without ostentation. Mizoguchi is another whose unequalled refinement and mastery of staging (if not pretty obvious visual beauty) can be overlooked, was another, but Renoir had more warmth and variety. Satyajit, a Renoir protegé of sorts, had a similar self-effacing maturity
I totally agree. Well said.
Wildly overrated. I prefer the Renoir of “Boudu Saved From Drowning” and “Le Crime de M. Lange.”
A good thing we don’t have to choose.
Well, i have a soft spot for Boudu. A river, a dog and a Balzac book to spit in. What more could a film need? Er, come to think of it, Paulette Dubost
Absolutely wonderful film. One of my first introductions to French cinema. The hunting scene is shot magnificently.
Sorry, before i walk the dogs i should quickly say, in case i gave a wrong impression- not wanting to detour the thread, that there was actually quite a lot of variety in Mizo’s career, but so many of his silents (before his recognisable mature style) are lost. Back to Rules of the Game…
Boudu is another masterpiece, yes, as is Grande Illusion and a number of Renoir films. He was a heavyweight.
I wish we could retire this overrated stuff. No offense, David, but it’s pretty meaningless as a judgment. This film was once trashed to the point of nearly being lost forever — it deserves love. It’s like a magnet for love. It’s its karma, it can’t help it. ;)
“There is a moment when every true creator makes such a leap forward that his audience is left behind. For Renoir, La Règle du Jeu was the sign of maturity, a film so new that it looks confusingly as if it might be a failure; one of those failures that leaves you, the morning after, counting your friends on the fingers of one hand.”
— Cahiers du Cinéma 34, April 1954
I keep this quote almost as close to my heart as the film itself. In the end, style and content meet in such balance, it becomes as much about the content as how the content unfurls under Renoir’s direction. A much abused child of cinema…. It deserves, as Justin said, some genuine love.
i love that quote also. but i always wondered what godard meant by calling it “a film so new”, and why such a new film could be mistaken for a failure.
“Also, this film looks forward to Bunuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid (in the way that outside poilitical stresses show up as violence within a wealthy household)”
And to Renoir’s Diary of a Chambermaid, just about his Billy Wilder movie, Rules played as loudly as possible, with long tracking shots struggling to keep up with the cartoon characters as they gallivant about trying to rape each other and downing drinks on the way. One of my favorite Renoirs, but they all are.
I had the same impression as Bobby Wise – I much prefer Grand Illusion. This film is entertaining and has its moments, but I don’t see why it always seems to end up in that perpetual high top ten spot – even in our own poll. There are so many films – like The Searchers as another example – where all the critical awe is totally lost on me. A movie I can understand, enjoy, but not love. For once, I’ll leave it at that.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll tell you why I always list it in my Top 5: it’s one of those rare films that only gets better. There’s no such thing as a perfect film, and even the films I love — from Vertigo to Citizen Kane to Nashville — tend to show their seams here and there when you watch them for the millionth time. Rules doesn’t. I found that the more I’ve seen it, the more it seems to perfectly introduce and draw out its themes. It’s a devastating film that exposes a society, and it does it in such a subtle, brisk, comic way — and every time you see it, it gets better.
It really is a perfect film. So much beauty in it.
I was taken aback because I didn’t intend for this to be a good-bad discussion, I wanted to create a space where we could really talk very in depth about this film. The last thing I expected was anyone to come on this thread and say they didn’t think the film wasn’t worth talking about in the first place.
To clarify what I mean by “overrated” is a meaningless judgment, I think we use it too often here when other people like a film or director that we don’t like. That’s just a difference in taste. “Overrated” implies that on some objective scale the people who like something are wrong to like it. And that’s very hard to proove, especially since most films and directors have been severely criticized at one time or another by somebody if not more than once.
As far as the world of this film, you don’t have to have met a French aristocrat to become involved in it. A film should never cajole or force you to get involved in its world — you have to want to get involved, like William Holden in Network. This film, The Rules of the Game, offers no cheap gratification, it doesn’t touch the viewer in an alluring way, it steadfastly does not slime or backmail the viewer. It’s like a natural occurrence, like wind on water. I don’t know how else to put it, for now.
And Bob Stutsman, I’ll use on you the line you used on Rich Uncle Skeleton — you and David make strange bedfellows. lol. :)
Yes it was trashed initially. But now it’s so praised to the skies that people can scarcely “see” it. It’s a very good film, but it’s far from an incisive satire of French society in general or the political situation leading up to World War II.
Rules of the Game exudes incredible intelligence and to use Kenji’s fitting adjective, “modest” sophistication. After my first viewing, I had to immediately watch it again. So much goes on in each sequence – its easy to miss the many little gems scattered throughout. I love the way it flows so effortlessly, yet at the same time delves so deeply into the feelings and perspectives of each of the characters. I found myself empathizing with each one, without knowing why. It’s just great storytelling and beautiful cinema, in my humble opinion. I also found the commentary and other extras on the criterion disc really interesting – it might help those who had a hard time with it appreciate it more.
When we screened it at our film society several years back there were quite a few underwhelmed and i remember it being not very enthusiastically described as strange. I can understand why you- David- think it’s far from incisive. With say Boudu there’s the amusing satire on Bourgeois etiquette (something of Bunuel) with a Vigo-like desire for freedom from such rules and constraints, and poetic lyricism too. With Crime de Monsieur Lange there’s the will for working class solidarity, i’ve not seen La Vie est a Nous, but imagine it’s quite direct in its political intent. With Grand Illusion the message against artificial national boundaries causing wars when class (or type of employment, Renoir gave an example of farmers in China and Europe as an example if memory serves) is also a divider.
Rules of the Game is very elusive. It shows up faults like frivolity and hypocrisy of the aristocracy but these are not confined to one class. The gamekeeper is earnest like the aviator, there’s fun and tomfoolery for poacher and maid as well as for the Aristocrats. There are rules to be kept to at different class levels, there’s an interaction between classes that’s not seen as hateful or conflicting, but involving affability and deference. Renoir was interested in small groups and circles intermixing. We have a gender issue like Paulette wanting independence from her husband but her preference is to serve her mistress, with whom she has a warm relationship. The lower class gamekeeper and poacher are at odds. When they unite briefly and agree that a husband has a right to shoot his wife’s lover- male domineering and possessiveness!- that’s the cue for tragedy. The gamekeeper is earnest, like the aviator. There’s disguise and masks, misunderstandings based on characters playing along with social requirements or not being quite what they seem, at different levels. Octave said everyone has their reasons but Renoir once said, perhaps not altogether tongue in cheek, none deserved saving. There’s squabbles, fisticuffs, infidelity and violence at all levels, but most of the characters are easygoing and likeable. Things go awry when the earnest more possessive characters push the boundaries. Are they at least truer to themselves? It’s not a venomous portrait but a complex one. Renoir was no mere warm humanist, he had a spark. The film’s complexities repay countless viewings i think. It was anyway not a portrait of society or a type of film that French society was prepared for, perhaps their self-deception and need for straightforward narrative, clearer stereotyping class and character divisions, as well as social structure was a crucial failing.
p.s i saw it first as a French student in the early 80s unaware of its already sky-high reputation and loved it. But i still don’t really understand it.
Yes Susan it’s seemingly effortless in its movement and fluidity, and character studies, a very democratic approach! The brilliant choreography and fluid camera creates an extraordinary mobility, characters in and out of doorways and corridors and rushing round both upstairs and down. The spatial explorations bring out the social confusion and exchanges. And Renoir still has his eye for the outdoors and nature as well as internal scenes. We see a cute squirrel but that’s linked to a major problematic discovery, itself based on misunderstanding and then even Christine going along with a charade of nonchalance..
I’ve always liked this film ever since I watched it for the first time more than a decade ago and count it as one of my favorite films. I think it is sophisticated with outstanding images, the quality of which is particularly noticeable in the hunting scenes and in the dimmed interior of the castle during the on-stage performances. I love the scenes with the automatic piano playing Saint Saens’s La danse macabre (an enchanting foreshadowing of the approaching death for one of the characters), the four Jewish Orthodox men singing and dancing on stage (foreshadowing the anti-Semitic remark in the servants’ quarter), the triangle between Lisette, Marceau, and Schumacher and the chase that ensues with the revolver going off several times with no serious consequences (for this time) while André and la Chesnaye are both frantically looking for Christine who has had a little too much to drink and disappeared with one of the male guests behind doors to a drawing room across the hallway — one thing leads to the next right up to the climax, the mistaken identity, the fatal shot and the sad news announced in front of the house to the awakened guests… and everything adds up beautifully to a blatant and uneasy satire. It’s a quick-paced and entertaining comedy of error which brings out both the flaws and redeeming qualities of the main characters while leading the audience down the garden path (like the Pied Piper of Hamelin) to a tragic ending portraying aristocracy in an unflattering light. It is historically a timely film, made in 1939, a prophetic film in a sense that it seems to warn people in power to mend their insular self-centered mentality/behavior and prevent doom. I don’t see it as a Marxist propaganda (although I’m not aware of Renoir’s political leanings) or anything of that sort and appreciate this film personally as an ambitious and mature oeuvre marked by rarely attained levels of aesthetics and seamless filmmaking. (I’ve read an edition of The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton which includes analyses from the Marxist, feminist, new criticism and other points of view… and I imagine that Renoir’s Rules of the Game has enough substance for such scrutinies which makes it great.)
Renoir was openly and campaigningly leftist in the 30s, but after the war the politics, or relative lack of it in his films, certainly compared with the ones openly supporting the Popular Front, disappointed the Left. You’re right about the selfishness of the characters (yet they seem affable enough mainly) and the sense of an edifice about to crumble, and one revealed as anti-semitic, but i suppose it’s easy enough and tempting in hindsight to attach more prophetic rather than warning powers to the film than it might have intended.
If I could only take one feature length movie to a desert island t would be the Rules of the Game. That being said, perhaps folks who say it’s overrated simply don’t respond to it’s profound pessimism the way others do. At it’s core, the film is about the death of sincerity in all matters of human connection, especially love. The main character is effectively executed because he has broken the rules of the game by becoming serious about that which society has a vested interest in ensuring remains frivolous. If you don’t buy Renoir’s themes in this film you will find it less successful than others.
I also maintain that the reason why the Grand Illusion, another amazing film, doesn’t receive quite the acclaim that Rules does is partly because stories about how we treat each other at war aren’t as consistently relevant as stories about how we treat each other at love. Wars come and go, in our consciousness at least, but the game Renoir is dissecting is being played all around us, all the time. Notice the way Vertigo is inching up on Kane on the Sight and Sound list. If not for Welles deserved reputation, Rules would have overtaken Kane long ago. When a brilliant director brilliantly and incisively critiques romantic mores in a film that film will almost always eclipse their more expansive work. So look out Kubrick fans, in a few years people will say Eyes Wide Shut is his best and they may be right.
2Mike— Death of sincerity? What about Christine finally reaching the conclusion that she has always loved Octave, her childhood friend, and Octave sacrificing himself for Christine’s happiness by sending her the aviator André Jurieux who he thinks can make her happier than himself? And much earlier, La Chesnaye actually decides to give up his mistress after Christine tells him that she trusts him, so that he can be worthy of his wife, however his plan is foiled because he delays breaking off the relationship to avoid being brutal to his mistress and Christine witnesses them in the midst of their last pretend “passionate” good-bye kiss through a binocular. I agree that André breaks a rule by expecting more than he is allowed… after all, he is supposed to behave like a medieval knight who undertakes exploits in the honor of a lady (who can be married) but throws a tantrum like a spurned lover instead when she is not there to congratulate him in person. (But she could have sent a bouquet of flowers or a message with Octave so I’m not really sure whether she had not been amiss in her manners which would indicate a breach of sincerity on her part.) So, rather than death of sincerity, I think it is more about a search for sincerity, especially on the part of Christine who laments the fact that she had been living a lie for 3 years. However, at the very end, they announce the tragic “accidental” death of André and tell a lie “that Schumacher shot him thinking he was a poacher” so perhaps you are right after all…
A double post, so in addition to the above…
I think the “game” in Renoir’s The Rules of the Game does not refer only to love but has more to do with the social order that La Chesnais, his family and friends and servants have come to depend upon and wish to perpetuate.