Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu) (1939) (Mini-Review)

Slammed by French critics and audiences alike on its initial release in 1939, The Rules of the Game is now regarded as one of the greatest films ever made—indeed, it's the only film to have appeared on every one of Sight & Sound's (in)famous once-a-decade top-ten lists since that poll's inception in 1952.

Me, I only got around to seeing it this last weekend—a nice Criterion Collection edition for my birthday.

In this comedy of manners about a group of French aristocrats and their tangled extra-marital affairs, writer-director Jean Renoir took aim at the whole of French society and found everybody wanting. Aristocrats are weak, generals are stupid, workers are lazy, men think with their you-know-whats and women are weary with the task of leading them around by it. Even the aviator, hailed as a hero for crossing the Atlantic in record time, reveals himself to be an empty flight suit.

They all meet in a country house, ostensibly for a shooting party, but really to play a game of ring-around-the-rosies where everybody loves somebody they shouldn't and nobody loves the one they're with. In the course of the weekend, Renoir makes clear that any supposed superiority on the part of the ruling class is purely a fiction. Indeed, how they got to be in charge of anything, much less an entire country, is a mystery.

No wonder French audiences were miffed.

But when a year later the German army crushed France like a bug, Renoir suddenly looked like a prescient genius and history has been trying to make it up to him ever since.

It's a good movie. Is it one of the ten best movies ever made? How would I know? Of Renoir's films, I actually prefer Boudu Saved From Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux) myself, and I think others would go with Grand Illusion.

Of those movies released in 1939, which many consider the greatest year for films ever, I'd go with Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka and maybe even Only Angels Have Wings, in roughly that order, and then The Rules of the Game. But I'm a barbarian.

And ultimately, such considerations are irrelevant anyway. The question is, is this something you might enjoy on a Saturday night when you're in the mood for something frothy and fun? You bet.

Starring Marcel Dalio (aka the croupier in Casablanca), Jean Renoir, Nora Gregor, Julien Carette, from a screenplay by Jean Renoir and Carl Koch.

My rating: 4 stars (out of 5).


mister muleboy said...

you're impressed by my stealth birthday celebration

i am an ass

an a bad lawyer

Mythical Monkey said...

Tut tut. The law is an ass, but you are a fine fellow, the best of fellows, and a very good lawyer.

It's been a stealth year all around, with various health and family issues in your household and mine. Besides, you sprang for tickets to Castle Keep -- what better birthday present than that!

danyulengelke said...

Great review!

We're linking to your article for French Old Wave Wednesday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

Keep up the good work!