November 17, 2006


APPRECIATION: La Regle de Jeu (The Rules of the Game) Directed by Jean Renoir (ARMOND WHITE, 11/01/06, NY Press)

Jean Renoir’s 1939 Rules of the Game, in revival at Film Forum, was never a popular foreign film but always a critics’ favorite. Anyone who cares about movies needs to see it to recognize exactly why it stands the test of time. It comes down to the famous line: “The horrible thing in this life is that everyone has their reasons.” But Renoir didn’t argue for moral relativism (the excuse people gave to dismissing a film as great as Spielberg’s Munich). The rejoinder, “And I’m all for their free expression,” is equally important. It is the acceptance of people’s diverse, strange, idiosyncratic, humane, even hurtful reasons that made Rules of the Game a prime example of film art.

Today, so few filmmakers follow Renoir’s dictum that it’s a question whether Rules of the Game rules anymore. In a do-as-you-please culture, filmmakers and critics can excuse promoting inhumanity and even artistic slovenliness (like Borat). Does the fact that Rules of the Game has been restored in a significantly re-worked print that improves on Criterion’s 2003 DVD version matter anymore? In a year when both Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann manipulate imagery and audience response toward the delectation of cruelty, Renoir’s fascination with manners and heartbreak, social corruption and disappointment might seem wack.

Actually, the key to appreciating Rules of the Game is that the only three characters who still believe in the rules are somewhat beyond the Pale of polite French society -- the nouveau riche Jew, the lowly gamekeeper, and the mercurial aviator -- which is why france was doomed. Grand Illusion is a much better film.

Eve of Destruction: Jean Renoir's masterpiece of French society on the brink (Leslie Camhi, October 31st, 2006, Village Voice)

"What is natural, these days?" a lady dressing for the evening asks her maid, who finds Madame's violet lipstick a bit too artificial. The year is 1939, the place Paris, after the Munich Conference's false promises of peace and on the eve of Hitler's deadly march across Europe. The lady's observation, tossed off in the first few minutes of The Rules of the Game, is like so much else in Jean Renoir's masterpiece, at once frivolous and poignant—a melancholy lament for a world gone awry, delivered in a tone so light you might think you had missed it.

The Rules of the Game follows the amorous exploits of a group of aristocrats invited to a hunting party at a French château. Their hectic intrigues find an uncanny echo in the affairs of their servants, upstairs and downstairs comically crossing paths on the way to a tragic conclusion. The film's dazzlingly labyrinthine script never mentions the coming war, yet its menace permeates a milieu that seems to have lost all moral compass, and where the ideal of happiness had been sacrificed to one of mere amusement. [...]

The Rules of the Game provoked something like a riot at its Parisian premiere. Never mind that the anti-Semitic and xenophobic press had a field day with Dalio's Jewishness and Gregor's thick Austrian accent. "People who commit suicide do not care to do it in front of witnesses," Renoir said of the French response to his film, which, beneath its frothy veneer, showed their society going down the drain.

Bringing Down a House of Commons (BRUCE BENNETT, November 3, 2006, NY Sun)
It's been more than 50 years since Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game"was shouted off the screen at its 1939 Paris premiere. "Rules" bombed miserably in first release and again in a re-cut version. But after World War II, the film began to win more and more converts.

"The awful thing about life," says Octave, a character in "Rules" played by the director himself, "is everyone has their reasons."

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 17, 2006 4:31 AM

Yes Grand Illusion is a far better film. Nice review btw.

Note as well the character in G.I. who is writing a book on Pindar, the elegist of aristocratic values in classical Greece just as mass democracy had become a likewise irresistable force.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 17, 2006 10:15 AM