Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/2/08.
Before the era of the French New Wave of the 1960s, France's greatest director who helped bring French cinema to the masses was Jean Renoir. In the 1930s, Renoir had come off a period of doing silent films as he was making new films with sound. In 1937, Renoir hit it big with the films Le Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion)and Le Bete Humaine (The Human Beast). Two years later, Renoir had his own financing to make a film that wouldn't just solidify his status as one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived. For his next film, he would satire the world of the upper class and its sense of grandeur for the film entitled La Regle Du Jeu (The Rules of the Game).
Directed and starring Jean Renoir with a script he co-wrote with Carl Koch based in part of Alfred de Musset's Les Caprices des Marianne. La Regle Du Jeu tells the story of a gathering in a mansion as a man returns to learn that his beloved is with someone else. Distraught, he is invited to a gathering in the French countryside as affairs and flirtations arose between the rich and their servants. A study about the upper class and the people who work with them, the film is also about a study of manners in how these different people portray themselves. Also starring Roland Toutain, Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Mila Parely, Odette Talazac, Anne Mayen, Paulette Dubost, Gaston Modot, and Julien Carette. La Regle Du Jeu is a brilliant, witty, and satirical masterpiece from Jean Renoir.
After successfully flying 23 hours across the Atlantic, Andre Jurieu (Roland Toutain) has arrived in France as he achieved a great feat. Yet, when he sees that his beloved Christine (Nora Gregor) had not shown up and who he did this for, he is heartbroken as he is comforted by his friend Octave (Jean Renoir). Christine is at home with her loyal maid Lisette (Paulette Dubost) while planning a gathering in the French countryside that will include Christine's husband Marquis Robert de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio). Robert however, is having an affair with Genevieve (Mila Parely) which is now becoming rocky as he is aware that Christine is falling for Andre. In a suicide attempt by crashing a car, Andre is still heartbroken as Octave talks him out of his funk as he walks home to see Christine, whom he has known for years and often treats her like a sister. Learning of the gathering they’re going to have, he decides to come and invite Andre.
With Robert and Octave hoping to pair Andre with Genevieve to solve everyone's problems, everyone leaves for the weekend retreat at their country estate. Joined by Charlotte da La Plante (Odette Talazac), the general (Pierre Magnier), Christine's niece Jackie (Anne Mayen) and Monsieur de Saint-Aubin (Pierre Nay), they also meet the estate's gamekeeper and Lisette's husband Schumacher (Gaston Modot). Schumacher notices a bunch of rabbits in the field while hoping to catch poachers as he finds one of them named Marceau (Julien Carette) who Robert meets and gives him a job. Andre finally arrives, though still reeling over Christine's indifferent behavior towards him as Jackie falls for him. With plans to go over the hunt the next day, Lisette is wooed by Marceau at the servants floor. The hunt begins as everyone seems to have a good time while Christine learns something horrifying.
Later that night, a masquerade ball happens with several guests as things start out smoothly but numerous romantic liaisons between several guests and servants lead to chaos. Octave begins to reveals his own romantic feelings for Christine as things get crazy and such. With Robert losing control of the situation and Andre still having intense feelings for Christine, a tragic mistake would occur in the heat of jealousy and passion.
Films about a gathering often reveals what goes in the parties and the people behind them. What Renoir does is examines the lives of the individuals and the servants involved as everything unfolds in this weekend. What it's really about is these group of upper class individuals trying to escape the problems of their own life through acts of decadence whether its hunting for rabbits and birds or through these parties they hold with their rich friends. Yet, underneath all of this is the servants who are trying to help run things yet are dealing with their own problems as flirtations and romantic liaisons lead to chaos and tragedy. In many ways, the film is a study of manners, people, and the lives they lead in whether it's filled with things or just simply empty lives.
While the script and character studies in the story are wonderfully written, it's Renoir's observant, stylish direction that is truly mesmerizing. From the way he captures the drama in his framing to the tracking shots of what is going on amidst the chaos in the countryside estate. What was amazing about that tracking shot where the camera moves to see what's going on and everything is unbroken and the audience is watching everything unfold. At that time when it was made and released, it was kind of a new thing to see. Another scene, the famous hunting scene is brilliant for its sense of brutality. Had it been done today with real-life rabbits and birds actually being shot like that, it would've caused outrage with animal-rights activists. Yet, the fact that Renoir got away with it to show how much the upper class seems to enjoy all of this when they don't really much to do with their lives.
The direction that Renoir took is superb as while the people who serve the rich are clearly more interesting than the ones they serve. Renoir shows the sense of loyalty and honor they have for the people they work with while being allowed to state their opinions. Yet, Renoir's focus is still the people who live in the fancy bedrooms and eat the fanciest meals but are not actual stereotypes. They're real people that have real problems as they find themselves with lives that are often empty and not much to show for. The character of Andre is someone who just accomplished a feat that makes him a national hero and he's whining about the fact that Christine isn't there for his countrymen to hear. Octave is someone who believes is a failure with nothing to live for or has the motivation to do anything.
Then there's Christine, the object of affection for all involved as a woman who is amazed at the men who love her yet isn't sure what to do about herself. Another person who loves her is Lisette, whose loyalty to Christine might conjure up homosexual tendencies. Yet, she also drives a conflict between her husband Schumacher and Marceau for her affections. Then there's Robert, a man who is trying to control everything around him as well as the guests and once all the chaos ensues. He tries to maintain control everywhere but in his personal life, things are definitely spiraling down. The film's tragedy in the end emphasizes how much things can go wrong and one person is trying to maintain that sense of control while others affected by it seem completely lost. It's Renoir's sense of study in his direction and the script he co-wrote that ensures in why this film is truly magnificent from start to finish.
Cinematographers Jean Bachelet and Jacques Lemare do superb work with the film's black-and-white photography to emphasize the look of the rich early on as well as magnificent exterior shots of the French countryside. The interiors are richly done yet it's best work in the lighting is for the exterior nighttime sequences near the end of the film that is truly rich and haunting to foreshadow what's to come. Editor Marguerite Renoir does fantastic work with the film's cutting in the use of dissolves and fade-outs to add style and a pacing that is unique for the film. Production designers Eugene Lourie and Max Douy do fantastic work with the film's set decorations and the look of the house and such. Even in the designs of the staging they used for their plays in the ball scene.
Legendary costume designer Coco Chanel creates amazing clothes for the look of the film with its sparkling dresses, masquerade costumes, Lisette's hood, and everything else. It's dazzling though in seen in black-and-white while adds a wonderful touch to the film's look. Sound engineer Joseph de Bretagne does fantastic work with the film's sound work to capture the suspense as well as the chaos that goes on in the film. The film's music is a mix of classical pieces from Mozart, Chopin, Monsigny, Salabert, and Saints-Saens all arranged by Roger Desormieres and Joseph Kosma for the film's party scenes and music boxes.
The cast is unique for its array of characters that include small performances from Pierre Magnier as a general, Odette Talazac as socialite Charlotte, Eddy Debray as the lead servant Cornielle, Lise Elena as a radio reporter, and Pierre Nay as Saint-Aubin, a lover of Christine whom Andre fights. Anne Mayen is great as Jackie, a young woman who has a crush on Andre while looking at Octave as an older brother. Gaston Modot is great as the jealous, bullying Schumacher who feels threatened by the presence of Marceau as well as being possessive of his wife Lisette. Julien Carette is great as the charming, poor Marceau, a man who wants to have the chance to serve the rich as he enjoys his job while flirting with Lisette and battles Schumacher. The film's best supporting performance goes to Paulette Dubost as Lisette, Christine's loyal maid who is very caring to her mistress while falling for the attention of Marceau.
Mila Parley is great as the mistress Genevieve who is aware of Christine's presence while trying to be her friend as she also juggles her affair with Robert. Marcel Dalio is also great as Robert de la Chesnaye who is trying to maintain control of everything both in front of everyone and in his personal life as everything starts to lose control. Nora Gregor is excellent as Christine, the woman who is being loved by everyone as she is confused by her beauty and the men who love her as she tries to find the one man who loves her. Roland Toutain is brilliant as the heartbroken Andre, a despondent man desperate for the heart of Christine that he'll fight anyone who'll get in his way only to realize that he's becoming a fool. Finally, there's Jean Renoir in a superb performance as Octave, a man who has failed who tries to keep everyone together and such while only to realize he's in love with Christine as Renoir's calm, wise performance is truly magnificent.
When it premiered in 1939 with a 91-minute running time, the film drew a scathing response from critics and audiences when it was released. Jean Renoir was forced to re-edit the film with his wife Marguerite to 84 minutes, it still didn't do well at the time France was entering World War II. It was banned afterwards, then lifted, and then banned again. Then in 1959, film historians Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand salvaged the film for a reconstruction along with unreleased footage with help from Renoir as it premiered at the Venice Film Festival that year to a huge ovation with a new cut of 106 minutes. In 2004, the film was restored and reissued for its Criterion DVD release in the same reconstructed version back in 1959 as it's often considered to be one of the greatest films of all-time.
La Regle Du Jeu is a witty, satirical, and powerful film from Jean Renoir. With a superb cast and Renoir's observant direction, it's a film that is a must-see for anyone who loves films as well as newcomers new to foreign films and art-house films. It's a film that's filled with a lot of humor, wit, and tragedy. While the film is certainly innovative, particularly for being influential to many filmmakers and films, most recently Robert Altman's 2001 film Gosford Park. Those new to Renoir will no doubt find this film as a great starting point. In the end, La Regle Du Jeu is a film that is truly brilliant worth watching every time from the late, great Jean Renoir.
Jean Renoir Films: (Backbiters) - (La Fille de l’eau) - (Charleston Parade) - (Une vie sans joie) - (Marquitta) - (The Sad Sack) - (The Tournament) - (The Little Match Girl) - (Le Bled) - (On purge bebe) - (Isn’t Life a Bitch?) - (Night at the Crossroads) - Boudu Saved from Drowning - (Chotard & Company) - (Madame Bovary (1933 film)) - (Toni) - A Day in the Country - (Life Belongs to Us) - (The Lower Depths (1936 film)) - (The Crime of Monsieur Lange) - Grand Illusion - (La Marseillaise) - La Bete Humaine - (Swamp Water) - (This Land is Mine) - (Salute to France) - (The Southerner) - (The Diary of a Chambermaid (1945 film)) - (The Woman on the Beach) - The River - (The Golden Coach) - (French Cancan) - (Elena and Her Men) - (The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment) - (Picnic on the Grass) - (The Elusive Corporal) - (The Little Theater of Jean Renoir)
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