The Rules of the Game (“La regle du jeu”)
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Jean Renoir and Carl Koch
Nouvelles Éditions de Films (NEF)
Repeat viewing/Criterion Collection DVD
#138 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Robert de la Cheyniest: Why’s that?
Octave: So I no longer have to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.
I’ve been putting off writing this review because I just can’t find the words to describe how I feel about this film, which I consider to be one of the supreme masterpieces of cinema.
André Jurieux is welcomed as a hero after he has crossed the Atlantic solo in less than 24 hours. He is despondent, however, because his muse Christine de la Cheyniest did not meet him on arrival. She is at home with her husband Robert (Dalio) listening to the event on the radio. Christine considers André a friend, though her maid Lisette says friendship with a man is impossible. When Robert learns that the relationship is innocent he starts to feel guilty about his own affair with Genevieve and tries to break it off. André’s friend Octave (Renoir) tries to console the suicidal pilot and finally convinces Christine and Robert to invite him to their country estate. Genevieve also coerces Robert into inviting her.
Lisette is married to the De la Cheyniest country gamekeeper Shumacher (Gaston Modot), a situation that suits her as long as they are separated by hundreds of miles and she is free for hanky-panky. Shortly after arrival, Robert meets poacher Marceau (Carette) and wants to hire him to rid the estate of rabbits. But Marceau has long dreamed of becoming a domestic and Robert complies by taking him on as part of the house staff. Marceau soon begins a flirtation with Lisette, enraging the jealous Shumacher who chases him for the remainder of the film, sometimes at gun point.
The country visit includes two notable events, a formal hunt and a costume party including a kind of talent show. During the hunt, Nora spies Robert giving an affectionate good-bye kiss to Genevieve. She had been oblivious of the affair, which was common knowledge to everyone else, and now believes her entire marriage has been based on a lie. She lashes out during the party by selecting a random guest for a tryst of her own. A farcical chase and general mayhem centering on the upstairs and downstairs lovers ultimately ends in tragedy.
Robert refers to Octave as a “dangerous poet” and this is an apt description of Renoir especially in this savage examination of French society between the wars. It is a world where mechanical birds are treasured and real birds are shot, true love is punished and infidelity exalted, and crimes are overlooked to preserve the peace. I see Jurieux as a stand in for Czechoslovakia, a sacrificial lamb led to the altar to allow the status quo to persist for a few days longer. All this is hidden beneath the surface in a farce worthy of Moliere.
The flm making is exquisite.. Who can ever forget the barbaric hunt, a masterpiece of montage editting, ending in the extended shot of the quivering rabbit? The entertainment at the party is equally mesmerizing. I love the shot of Dalio showing off his huge triumphant “music box” as his world disintegrates around him.
I can and have watched this over and over with exactly the same interest, noticing something new each time. Is that not the definition of a classic?