Saturday, November 29, 2008

Target #239: La règle du jeu / The Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir)

TSPDT placing: #3
Directed by: Jean Renoir
Written by: Jean Renoir (scenario & dialogue), Carl Koch (writer)

The Rules of the Game (1939) arose from Jean Renoir's desire to create a "pleasant" film about a society that he believed had become rotten to the core. His brand of satire, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Carl Koch {husband of animator Lotte Reiniger}, is razor-sharp and unapologetically direct. For the French Bourgeoisie, morals and integrity have become a thing of the past. Married couples frequently hold mistresses and lovers, such that to not have one is considered abnormal. Society not only accepts these transgressions, but encourages them, and neither spouse can justly object, for they each have their own alternate pair of arms in which they may seek comfort. When the film was initially released in 1939, many audiences didn't appreciate Renoir's apparent disdain for their existence, and the critical response was bitter and disheartening. One outraged cinema-goer even attempted to burn down the theatre! Thus, it's not hard to understand why the director subsequently removed critical scenes to cater to his critics, and it wasn't until the 1950s that a near-complete print was reconstructed.
This was my fourth film from Jean Renoir, but only his second feature-length offering, so I'm still trying to familiarise myself with the director's style. The Rules of the Game is enjoyable, of course, but one does idly wonder why it's held at the pinnacle of the cinematic pantheon. For one, there doesn't seem to be anything truly "cinematic" about it. Others have mentioned the pioneering use of deep-focus, which I admittedly never noticed (somebody must be doing their job right, I suppose), but the whole film had a vibe of theatricality that kept me detached from the story. In other words, the characters were on the stage, and I was sitting back in the audience, enjoying their shenanigans but never feeling a part of them. Compare this to a comedy from, for example, Ernst Lubitsch, in which we can readily relate to the characters because we feel a part of their close-knit group. Perhaps Renoir's use of largely unsympathetic characters, who treat human relationships as some sort of perverted game, played a pivotal role in my inability to be feel involved in their story.

These disagreements aside, The Rules of the Game is all about the dialogue, which is both frequent (a catastrophe when you're trying to read subtitles) and frequently witty. The story, particularly the second half, kept me consistently entertained; I laughed my head off at Shumacher (Gaston Modot) chasing Marceau (Julien Carette) around the house with a revolver, and the rather nonchalant manner in which the house guests responded to the disruption. Renoir's own character, Octave, was my favourite, a chubby middle-aged man with plenty of friends but no lovers. It's not difficult to see where Robert Altman got some inspiration for Gosford Park (2001), particularly in how he compares and contrasts the extravagant upper-class and their servants (who aren't really all that different in their unscrupulous sexual urges). Renoir himself also used similar would-be philandering hijinks in the more light-hearted romantic comedy Elena and her Men (1956), with Ingrid Bergman. I look forward to enjoying some more of the director's work.

Currently my #6 film of 1939:
1) Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (Frank Capra)
2) Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks)
3) The Wizard Of Oz (Victor Fleming, Mervyn LeRoy, Richard Thorpe, King Vidor)
4) Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood)
5) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle)
6) La règle du jeu {The Rules of the Game} (Jean Renoir)
7) Dark Victory (Edmund Goulding)
8) Another Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke)
9) Drums Along the Mohawk (John Ford)


tosser said...

I can't fathom how one can call it uncinematic - it has some of the most graceful and fluid camerawork I've seen anywhere. As I said on IMDb, though - I only really loved it after a few watches. Maybe a rewatch is in order after a few months?

I also think Grand Illusion is the better Renoir film. Seen it?

tosser said...

I almost forgot:


I hope this has been enlightening.

ackatsis said...

If I eventually see "Children of Paradise"... and it's not the mostly awesomely awesome piece of awesomeness that I've ever seen, you know I'm going to be disappointed, right?

tosser said...

But it will be the most awesomely awesome piece of awesomeness you'll ever see, or my name isn't Slim Shady.