Friday, January 3, 2014

Rules of the Game, The (1939)

Director: Jean Renoir

A satire of the social elite is the subject of French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s picture The Rules of the Game. More than just a movie with comedy and tales of romantic rendezvous, the history of the film following its release is a saga all its own. Appalling to French audiences the picture would take years to earn the title as one of the finest films of all time for many critics, surviving near destruction through World War II and appearing within many lists of history’s most hailed features.

The Rules of the Game is a comedic drama of group of upper class members of French society and their various romantic relationships, affairs, and secrets they share with each other centered around a large holiday outing where these intertwined events unfold. The picture is a rather complicated mix of relationships and individuals as each other’s romantic fates are actions.

The story centers on André (Ronald Toutain), an accomplished aviator crushed by the idea that his lover Christine (Nora Gregor) no longer loves him no matter how much he attempts to impress her. Christine is married to socialite Robert (Marcel Dalio), who knows and openly jokes about their former affair. Meanwhile Robert is attempting to call off his secret affair with his mistress Geneviéve. Troubled by juggling these relationship issues Octave (Jean Renoir), a good friend to all of these individuals, convinces Robert to invite both André and Geneviéve along with Robert, Christina and himself to Robert’s country home for a sporting weekend, joking that André and Geneviéve might get together and all this will be fixed.

While at the country estate André pines for Christine, but Christine is not interested, so bothered that she is even willing to run away with Octave who reveals he is madly in love with her. Meanwhile there is further mixed relationships with the staff at the estate, as Christine’s maid Lisette (Paulette Dubost) begins an affair with a newly hired servant Marceau (Julien Carette) under the nose of Lisette’s husband Schumacher (Gaston Modot), the head gamesman of the estate. The jealousy over Lisette leads to Schumacher to shoot André, mistaking him for Octave who he further mistakes to believe is trying to steal his wife from him. It is one large convoluted story of intermixing characters and relationships that build and build to the ultimate conclusion of a man dying due to mistaken ideas and identity.

The film is complicated with several layers of relationships entwined, as there are affairs mixed with other affairs and they are not necessarily hidden from each other as everyone seems to know about everyone else, but choose to be blissfully unaware that they are still happening under their very noses until anger breaks through. It is a satire meant more to lampoon of how upper society seems to be so immoral with their relationships. This stylization was the point Jean Renoir who directed and also appears in the film as Octave. It was a change from the artistic realism movement of French cinema that Renoir was known for, instead looking to dabble into new ground in this picture.

At the film’s premiere audiences were appalled by the film’s subject matter. Finding the feature’s matters of making French society a series of affairs and trysts with little moral standards enraged certain audiences. It was noted that at the premiere one man was seen trying to light the theater on fire according to Renoir. Due to the public outrage Renoir would edit and re-edit his picture to make good with his audiences, but still brought on outcries from the public. Shortly after the initial release the film was banned for a short period for being a demoralizing picture in French society at the onset of war in Europe. On the outset of World War II in 1940 the film would be banned after a short re-release once again, but this time by both France and Nazi Germany when the Nazis marched on Paris.

The film would not see the light of day too often after the war with many copies being destroyed in bombings and fires during period of battle, leading the cinematic world to believing the film to be lost. With luck many surviving pieces were collected from around and assembled, Renoir edited back together the picture in the 1950s, deeming it a completed picture once again minus once scene Renoir deamed unnecessary, leaving behind what contemporary audiences enjoy years later. Through the years director and critics alike have praised The Rules of the Game as one of the finest works of film, landing near the top of many greatest films lists internationally along with the likes Citizen Kane and Tokyo Story.
Most of the cast would not be known worldwide by audiences. Besides Octave, played by the film’s director, the only actor to stand out outside of French cinema would be Marcel Dalio who would flee France when Nazi Germany moved in. Dalio would find new ground in Hollywood and become a rather well known French actor in many Hollywood features.

The Rules of the Game had a complicated past where near most audiences disliked the film, but would go on as being one of the most praised features of all time. Apart from the multilayered relationship story, Renoir uses the camera in a very creative light, using deep focus that allowed images in the foreground as well as the background to be clear at the same time. Renoir would create action both in the foreground and the background, filling the frame with many plots. This creativity would be digested and utilized by later directors such as Orson Welles in his masterpiece Citizen Kane. Renoir seemed to have a bit of a better grasp on cinema over other filmmakers, making him a bit ahead of his time. In reality Renoir was simply proving his better knowledge of creativity in displaying his story, utilizing all that a movie frame could provide, not wasting a single piece of celluloid in telling his story.

It is an understated film with plots and moments that could throw a random audience member for a loop, but The Rules of the Game is in actuality a masterpiece of very fine filmmaking under good observation. It becomes a film a person can appreciate more with multiple viewings, discovering just how creative Renoir was with his work. The morals of the tale should not be taken seriously as the picture is a clear satire which is why the film gained great recognition years after it was released. The feature lives on as a inspiration to filmmakers as to how one can capture and present a story on film with more creative manners, but disguised as a normal, run of the mill movie.

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