The Rules of the Game (1939)

March 23, 2007

As might be evident from the near month that has passed since my last post, my schedule has been quite busy. I was hoping to wrap up my little series on French film before we left for Paris, but – mon Dieu! – such an idea proved quite a bit too ambitious. Thus, I now have a backlog of a few posts that I’m hoping to get to in the next couple of weeks, so all you rabid classic and foreign film fanatics can simmer down . . .

The last French film I saw before our trip was Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (La regle du jeu). It’s considered a classic of French film and nearly everything I had ever read about it rules.jpgdescribes it in good to glowing terms, so I was rather surprised when I didn’t like it much at all. The basic plot follows a group of French bourgeois who gather at a country chateau for a party. While most of the film has a flippant feel to it – merely following the back-and-forth amorous exploits of the various characters – as the night’s events unfold, it becomes clear that the various, seemingly meaningless entanglements can lead to rather serious consequences. This is certainly a worthwhile plotline that’s been used in many great pieces of art. It’s just that Renoir’s work seemed to be lacking something. It was like a screwball comedy without the comedy, or maybe like a Mozart opera without the beautiful music.

Doubtless, the film seems to be a trailblazing one. One can find traces of its influence, for example, in some of the great films Fellini and Antonioni did in the early 60s. These later Italian films, however, were to me much more heartfelt and mature. Perhaps it was because I had seen these later, better done treatments of the same themes that I did not fully appreciate Renoir’s film. While I understood and admired the intents of The Rules of the Game, I just couldn’t get drawn into it, and only a few minutes into the film, I already found myself wondering how much longer I had to go.  

One final note worth mentioning. This is the only pre-New Wave French film I reviewed in the past several weeks. With that in mind, this film is a good example of what the New Wave movement was rebelling against. The movement’s leaders, like Godard and Truffaut, were frustrated with the stale conventions and recycled plotlines of classical French cinema and wished to reinvigorate the artform and explore the unique creative possibilities offered by the big screen. Watching a film such as The Rules of the Game and then comparing it to something like Band of Outsiders is a good way of seeing just how revolutionary the New Wave movement truly was.


One Response to “The Rules of the Game (1939)”

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