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Old 05-03-2009, 05:08 PM
Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game

The Rules of the Game (1939)

Two years after Renoir directed the brilliant "Grand Illusion," he somehow managed to direct another masterpiece called "The Rules of the Game." Regarding by many critics as one of the greatest films ever made, it was one of those movies that I became concerned about watching due to its enormous reputation alone. Any little fault in the film could come with great disappointment, and indeed, it almost did disappoint, until the realization of just how greatly everything comes together.

The film begins with famed aviator André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) completing an amazing 23-hour flight across the Atlantic. However, he becomes very unhappy when he realizes that the woman he loves, Christine (Nora Gregor), is not there to meet him. Christine is actually married to Robert de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio), who is having an affair with Geneviève de Marras (Mila Parély). With the help of a friend, Octave (played by Renoir himself), André gets invited to a party held by the Cheyniests. First there is a hunting party, then there is a party to celebrate André's achievement. Lots of romantic intrigue ensues.

The reason I said it almost disappointed was that, for the first hour, it seemed as if it was heading in the exact same direction as Robert Altman's disappointing "Gosford Park," where all of the characters just sit around and talk about uninteresting things while a murder-mystery slowly develops. That film ended up going nowhere, whereas "The Rules of the Game" ends up taking us on quite a wild ride in its final 45 minutes.

The first hour of this film felt like it wasn't really going anywhere, but a lot of it is necessary to set up the situations of the characters and to tell us about the characters themselves (this also aids in the attachment we feel with the characters later on). By the time the big party near the end of the film occurs, we know everyone, and who they are involved with, allowing us to sit back and enjoy the situations as they develop.

Aside from the situations of the high-class guests, we also witness the intrigue of the servants. A man, Marceau (Julien Carette), who is caught poaching on the Cheyniest’s grounds, ends up getting hired by Robert as a domestic. Marceau ends up falling for the servant of Christine, Lisette (Paulette Dubost), whose husband, Edouard Schumacher (Gaston Modot) becomes very angry when he discovers them together. One of the hardest things about this film is keeping up with who's involved with who, but it becomes easier as the film goes on.

All of these relationships come to a head at the big party. Renoir is able to brilliantly weave together the story of all of these people, not drowning out one story with another, but giving equal time to all. He also manages to blend some very humorous situations with tragedy. At one point during the party, Robert is dealing with André, who is going to run away with Christine, while Schumacher is running about the house with a gun, chasing after Marceau. This leads to what are probably my favorite lines of the film. Robert shouts "Put an end to this farce!" His head servant answers "Which one, your lordship?"

It is fascinating to watch the relationships forming and falling apart at the end. Just when we think somebody is going to end up with one person, they end up changing their minds for someone else. What was particularly strange about the party sequence is after Schumacher is done running around firing his gun everywhere, the guests don't seem all that disturbed by it, as if this is perfectly normal behavior at a party. The last few lines of the film echo this strange reaction.

For the last few tragic minutes of the film, Renoir takes two situations and plays them out in such a way as to give deep feeling to both of them. He could have ended the film with a simple misunderstanding, but that wouldn't have had much meaning behind it. By combining the mistake with another situation that plays out logically, he takes what could have been a very contrived ending and made it something special.

The only thing really stopping me from giving this a solid four stars is the first hour of the film. Renoir probably could have made all the introductions and gotten to the party a little faster, but it seems he wanted to give the audience plenty of time to get to know the characters before putting them all together in one situation. Also, the hunting scene felt like it went on a little longer than necessary, though it did provide a nice metaphor for the ending. These tiny problems aside, this is still a great film. There is a reason it was included on the prestigious "Sight & Sound" top ten lists among critics and directors. 3.5/4 stars.
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