Under Review: ‘The Rules of the Game’ (aka ‘La Regle du Jeu’)


There is not just an Arab discontent swirling in the winds. There is also a pervasive International Spring going on with the Occupy Wall Street movement. So it is altogether appropriate that on the Park Blocks of a make-shift tent city of protest in Portland, Ore., there should be playing a most extraordinary film mirroring the very situation at the core of the problem.

Portentously, this film was first released in 1939 and it was vilified by audiences and press alike. Politically the French were split over whether to join Hitler or fight his forces.

Economically, France with the rest of the world, was experiencing a tremendous imbalance between the rich and destitute. So a film seemingly minimizing their angst actually caused riots in the streets.

Jean Renoir, director and producer, has lamented that of all the films he made, “The Rules of the Game” turned out to be his biggest box office failure. In reaction to the public shredding, he cut his film into pieces, trying, without success, to remake it into something more agreeable.

While he has stated that he had “no intention to make a controversial film or shock the bourgeoisie,” he has also expressed that he had wanted this film “to function as a critique of a society [he] considered rotten to the core.” Has there been a change in that circumstance?

Fifty or so years later, Renoir found the original negatives and reconstructed his film so that it was nearly identical to his original reflective film released on the eve of France’s capitulation into WWII. It was shown at the 1989 Venice Film Festival and has since gained status as one of the greatest films ever made.

A palatial mansion where one servant walks a dog, another opens a door and still another is a personal attendant for the childless but beautiful wife, is the setting of Renoir’s farce that reflects the gulf between classes and how they operate in parallel worlds of superficiality.

“The awful thing about life is that everyone has their reasons. Of course they do.” This chilling statement from “Rules” is the most quoted section from all of Jean Renoir’s films. We can’t excuse the actions of the world on serendipity or chance. Everything has been intentional. We are players and therefore complicit in this game of life.

It plays like a farce, with the standard insensitive husband who has a brassy lover on the side. Once his wife, the naïve angelic blond, finds out the betrayal she works to show acceptance, even complicity and then romps off to find her own lover.

At the center of the film is a hunt, where an overabundant staff dressed in white beats the bushes to get the rabbits and birds to scurry out so that the rich, both men and women, can shoot the frantic animals.

On the DVD remake, there are hours of narrative on the metaphors, analogies and purpose of each scene. What’s most interesting is the parallel between a time in history where the world was cresting into war and now when there is again a great gulf between owners and workers.

“The Rules of the Game”
The NWFilm Center
Portland, Ore.
Plays 10/29 and 10/20

Production Notes
Director: Jean Renoir
Writers: Jean Renoir (scenario & dialogue), Carl Koch (collaborator)
Stars: Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost and Jean Renoir
Language: French with English subtitles
Release: 1939 (original)
Runtime: 106 (1989 reconstruction)

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4 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    I have the Criterion DVD of this one. It’s a fantastic film.

  2. Eli #

    Great review, Bev. Never heard of it but it sounds interesting.

  3. Lanora #

    This is a great film.

  4. Joseph #

    This is one of my top 10 movies of all time.