Comedy Monday: The Rules of the Game (1939)

6 06 2011

The critically acclaimed “The Rules of the Game” is widely regarded as not only one of France’s greatest films, but one of the best of all time. Needless to say I was quite excited at the prospect of finally getting to watch it. So much occurs throughout Jean Renoir’s classic that even having just watched it find myself wondering what actually just happened. The best summary I can provide would be that it begins with a man, Andre Jurieux (Roland Toutain), who just set a record for crossing the Atlantic. At the celebration of his landing he finds that the woman he loves and inspired him to take up such a feat is not there. This woman, Christine (Nora Gregor), is married and embarrassed by the whole situation so she convinces her husband to to invite him out into the country with them and their friends to bury the hatchet. From this point on Renoir masterfully constructs this astute and provocative satire of the Parisian upper class.

“Love, as it exists in society, is merely the mingling of two whims and the contact of two skins.”

Perhaps the most noticeable¬† aspect of “The Rules of the Game” is it’s complexity due to the number of central characters to the story’s plot. Now there are obviously some more developed than others but there are at least eight characters that we observe and come to know. They range from Christine and her husband Robert (Marcel Dalio) to the servants in their house. With so many characters and a story inhabiting a restricted space we constantly see multiple storylines invading the same scene, we will see something occurring in the background that is a continuation of a completely different scene. This type of film-making was not only revolutionary at the time but keeps the pace going and makes every scene engrossing at the same time.

“Corneille! Put an end to this farce! “

Jean Renoir’s satire is a about the indulgent, care-free nature of the French upper-class. They do things that will obviously hurt someone else but with a mind only for their own desires. Weirdly enough they also have a bizarre system of honor to go with it, or the rules of the game that they play. The whole affair is contrasted by several effective scenes such as the mass killing of wildlife on a hunting outing. With the way Renoir presents the characters in his film it is easy to see the original outrage that was produced when it was first released. It would have been very controversial at the time but time often does good things to these types of movies, especially those that focus on an aspect of society. This is one of the reasons why “The Rules of the Game” is regarded so well today, it pushed boundaries that may not have been popular at the time but in retrospect those people were just too close to what the film portrays to be comfortable.

“The Rules of the Game” is a very fun and often funny satire, combining that with something a little deeper to say. The character interactions are complex and Jean Renoir weaves a narrative which involves all of them to almost an overwhelming point. Nevertheless Renoir’s classic is a timeless work of cinema and deserves a place among the best satires made.

Score: 94/100

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