Tuesday, July 31, 2012

La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Setting the standard for future upper/lower class satire, Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game places a group of well-to-do French aristocrats and their bickering servants in an isolated chateau for a weekend party. Various romantic entanglements and misunderstandings occur, centered around married Austrian expat Christine (Nora Gregor) and the various men who love her. On the lower floors a new domestic hire attempts to seduce the wife of the mansion's head groundskeeper, who is armed and ready to kill anyone laying hands on his wife.

Despite my love for art history and film coming together, I somehow knew very little about Jean Renoir (painter Pierre Auguste's son, hello) or his career. I know The Rules of the Game is considered a masterpiece by many, and I thought the Upstairs/Downstairs premise sounded promising, but somewhere in the mix I lost interest, and in the end I'm not much of a champion of the film. Though I appreciate snarky social commentary as much as the next person, I didn't find these characters or stories compelling enough to care much about what was being said, and the film as a whole felt uneven. There are some very funny moments and a number of overly-dramatic ones (the over-acting is pretty intense) but most of it falls in the middle, and I found myself less than engaged during several scenes. Christine's flighty romantic nature and her philandering husband's inability to commit aren't strong grounds for a compelling story, you know? The subplot with the servants was more interesting (plus there's a gun!) but it's less of a focus. I understand the points being made about how rich people suck (duh) and the working class is kind of silly (I guess?) but I would have appreciated a more interesting script.

Not that everything in this film is bad, obviously. As I said there are moments I really enjoyed, especially those involving the flirty maid (Paulette Dubost) and her attempts to piss off her overbearing husband. The chase through the party is especially funny. The whole proceedings are shot beautifully, and I know Renoir's use of deep focus is considered pioneering for the time. There are several scenes wherein the forground action is as important as the background, and he gives us fascinating moments with large groups and impressive rooms. I may not have been particularly engaged by the story or dialogue, but I was happy to just look at this movie. I also liked Renoir's appearance as Christine's doughy best friend Octave, whose comment of "I'm not the marrying kind" and general familiarity with her made me think this was 1930s code for "gay" but it turned out he just liked to fool around with ladies. Wishful thinking on my part, I guess.

I know this is a highly-regarded classic, considered one of the best films ever made, etc, and maybe it's my low-brow tastes talking but it just didn't do it for me. Mostly it just reminded me that rich white people are usually boring, but if that's the focus of your movie I need it to be somewhat interesting, somehow.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Obviously a lot of people have drawn from Renoir's approach, I'm most familiar with Julian Fellowes' versions in Downton Abbey and Gosford Park.

3 comments:

  1. One of my all time favourite films. Many things in Altman's Gosford Park were meant as homage to this classic. Too bad it wasn't your thing.

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  2. I watched this film about a month ago and am glad to see that I'm not the only one who did not love it. I kept struggling as to whether I was missing something and watched it a second time, but it just did not do it for me. It's a nice film and beautiful to look at, but it was, as you said, not that engaging. I also agree that the two-timing maid's story and Jean Renoir were the best part of the film.
    And I hated Christine. First because I could not see what all the hoopla was about (she wasn't even beautiful tbh and she did not have an alluring personality either. I don't get it). Second, I found her indecisive nature irritating. I actually loved her husband more than she.
    New follower here btw.

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  3. I didn't LOVE it, but i think sometimes thats ok. Sometimes, its more about what it does to the people who view it. Goverments banned it claiming it was 'demoralising' - and i think this context it was released within is what makes it the classic it is. World War II broke out in 1939 too so the fact that it was made before all of that is also quite interesting no?

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