The Rules of the Game (1939) – Jean Renoir

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The next drama title to be highlighted in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Movies book is the French film Rules of the Game, an examination of passion, etiquette and class.

Andre Jurieux (Roland Toutain) has just flown across the Atlantic solo, allowing him to claim a level of celebrity, but all for naught, when the woman that he did for, Christine (Nora Gregor), doesn’t show to greet him. He’s met by his friend Octave (Jean Renoir), a cheerful, but occasionally morose older gentleman, and dear friend, who is, himself, in love with Christine as well.

It seems she is busy, off with her husband, Robert (Marcel Dalio),who is aware of her dalliance with Andre, but loves his wife so much, that he is willing to give up his own lover, Genevieve  (Mila Parely).

Wrangling an invite for himself and Andre, Octave arranges to join Robert and Christine for the week, as they host a hunting party. It is there, against the structured background of the household, divided into levels of class, even amongst the servants, and the brutality and passion of the hunt, that  a number of events play out, that lead to a measure of disaster, but they are too structured to admit, or show any real grief.

While Andre is making plays for Christine, and Genevieve chases Robert, we learn that there are all manner of things going on in this house, including a former poacher, Marceau (Julien Carette), who is fancying Christine’s personal maid, Lisette (Paulette Dubost), who is in turn married to one of the outdoor servants, Schumacher (Gaston Modot).

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The servants, give into their baser passions, in fact, Schumacher ends up chasing Marceau through the house, firing a revolver, all over the potential of a romantic liaison, where as those in the upper-classes all try to follow proper etiquette, dancing gently around social niceties and expectations.

A number of secrets, and troubles are revealed through the events of the weekend, a portion of them during the hunt itself. There are fisticuffs, passionate interludes, and trouble, so much so that it ends poorly for a number involved.

Renoir has created a fairly engrossing film, interweaving drama, passion, with a healthy dose of humor.  The only thing that I couldn’t understand, was all this excitement over Christine, she seems so dull and to me, rather unattractive.

Still, it was an interesting movie, giving commentary on a structured society on the verge of a World War II.

Whereas now, it’s considered a bit of a classic, back when it was released, it was banned by the French government, and it seems so many people detested it, one person actually tried to burn down the theater in which it was screening!

Seeing it today, it works very well, Renoir balances his moments, and, by film’s end, I was identifying more with the characters that are forced to leave the mansion, than those who stay.

Have you seen this one?

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