Rules of the Game, The

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					“The Rules of the Game,” (“La Règle du Jeu”) (1939), is another classic drama of the
French cinema, black and white, filmed between World Wars I and II by the famed
French director Jean Renoir (GRAND ILLUSION; PORT OF SHADOWS). It doesn’t
paint a very flattering portrait of the French society of the time, nor give a very
encouraging forecast as to how well the country, ruled by such an aristocracy, will do
when Germany attacks, an event that was very close, and, in 1939, already casting a very
long shadow to anyone with eyes to see. Presumably for these reasons, it met quite a
hostile response at its French debut, and Renoir cut it to shreds trying to make it more
acceptable to the public. Only with the end of World War II, and the passage of time, did
scholars begin to think more kindly of it; it was eventually restored, as best it could be,
by a pair of French film scholars.

Renoir, of course, was the son of world-famous, greatly loved Impressionist painter
Auguste Renoir, and there’s hardly ever a scene in a picture of his that isn’t beautifully
shot. “RULES,” which I would describe as a drawing room comedy/drama, has its full
share of them. Renoir was also, however, a Communist, who loathed France’s class-
ridden society of the time, and those negative feelings probably have the greatest
influence upon this film.

It centers upon a bed hopping weekend at the sprawling estate of the affluent Marquis
Robert de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio— the great friend of Jean Gabin’s character in
GRAND ILLUSION, and the croupier in CASABLANCA). He hosts a shooting party at
his property at a time when emotions are running high among his set. Guests include
Robert's mistress Genevieve (Mila Parely), and celebrity pilot Andre Jurieu (Roland
Toutain) -- he has just made himself a national hero by single-handedly flying the
Atlantic—but then made himself a national laughingstock by complaining, in the airport
radio interview, that Robert’s wife Christine, whom he fancies, hadn’t met him there to
congratulate him. Robert's wife, the Austrian Christine (Nora Gregor), is, of course, at
the chateau as well. Her college student niece Jacky, who has a crush on the pilot, is
there, as is Octave, an old friend of the family’s, who is actually played by Jean Renoir
himself. At the same time, the Alsatian gamekeeper Schumacher (Gaston Modot) is
trying to keep the local poacher Marceau, newly hired as a servant (played by the well-
known comic actor Julien Carette) from hitting on his lovely, lively wife Lisette,
(Paulette Dubost). Lisette is Christine’s personal maid, who prefers to live with her in
Paris, while Schumacher is stuck out in the country. Needless to say, the servants, and
other guests, watch all this with great glee.

Photography of the approaching chateau is Renoir-beautiful, and within the chateau, he
gives us some deep focus shots of which other directors can only dream. His screen play
is never less than witty, somewhat romantic, and quite well-acted, by himself, as well. I
am not, and have never been, an official film student, so am not equipped to discuss this
movie technically, nor to enter the heated argument as to where it belongs in the pantheon
of classic French films.

 I had a couple of problems with the film. The shooting scene, while beautifully
photographed, giving us peasant beaters wearing their traditional smocks, sure goes on a
long time. And sure shows a lot of deaths: some critics theorize that it’s meant to hint at
the coming human bloodbath. And, furthermore, I have lived in the English countryside,
among people who shoot, and they wouldn’t have dreamt of wasting ammunition on
rabbits. That’s why they kept ferrets. As, in fact, the gamekeeper Schumacher mentions
his keeping ferrets for the killing of the rabbits. So why were these people shooting
rabbits?

 The Marquis’s wife Christine also presented me with problems. She is a beautiful, born
socialite, the daughter of an Austrian conductor, and would have to be, I guess, described
as a “femme fatale.” Apparently, she has based her life on the principle of Steven Stills’
1970 folkish song, “Love the One You’re With.” She seems to be ready to run off, every
ten minutes or so, with one character or another, and both her husband and maid, who
presumably know her best, point out that none of them have sufficient wealth to keep her.
It doesn’t make any sense to me, but what do I know about the between the wars French
femmes fatale?

The film’s ending also didn’t make too much sense to me, yet it’s obvious that it’s the
ending Renoir wanted. He really had to pull a couple of rabbits out of his hat to get there,
and I’m not sure why he bothered. Perhaps to illustrate the harsher effects of the rules of
the game, society’s rules at the time. In any event, I did not find “THE RULES,” to be
on a par with Renoir’s greatest work. But it can be beautiful.

				
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