The Rules of the Game
SteelCity99 - wrote on 04/24/18
After having a considerable amount of success with his prewar films La Grande Illusion (1937) and La Bête Humaine (1938), Jean Renoir, a cinema genius that did not receive the recognition he deserved in the 30's and 40's, brings along his second masterpiece and what is widely regarded nowadays as one of the greatest films ever made. Despite that Jean Renoir's take on the French upper-class society resulted, naturally, in outstandingly complete rejection, hatred and public insults, La Règle du Jeu is a film that constitutes the most complex and multifaceted critique towards the bourgeoisie of its time, brilliantly juxtaposed with absurd and profound elements, yet not resorting to the fantasy genre in a similar way Luis Buñuel (El Ángel Exterminador , Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie ) would do. The films by Renoir always had the peculiar and interestingly-enough characteristic of being damaged and destroyed, but reconstructed during the 50's under the director's approval, what may lead modern worldwide masses to believe and reconsider their true artistic and cinematic purposes. The magic of his epic and human masterpieces originates from the fact that their striking honesty and renewed vision appealed not only to past generations, but to modern society as well in the sense of having historically important subject matters and morally everlasting messages concerning equality and ethicality.
La Règle du Jeu centers on a big group of upper-class people who attend the huge party invitation of Christine and his aristocratic husband named Robert. What follows is an extraordinarily accurate and overall stylish depiction of their typical signs of racism and discrimination towards those who do not belong to their particular social status, snobbish life styles, romance, and infinite love triangles, ensuing chaos and an extreme dose of moronic absurdity. The film received no attention from any international film festival after its initial release, but got its negatives damaged during the German occupation in France during the Second World War. It would not be until 1966 that Jean Renoir received a Bodil Award for Best European Film at a festival held in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is a clear sign that audacious and controversial (under the standards of a coward and democratic society) film projects are most likely to transcend over time and acquire a considerably high historical relevance.
Jean Renoir showed an extremely confident vision towards the bourgeoisie. Mirroring the experience he acquired serving in the air force during World War I, his direction style denotes veracity and politically correct accuracy. If the results of its screening ended up in an almost burned-down theater, its banning in French cinemas for about a month after its initial release, the accidental destruction of the original negatives and in its banning by the Nazi party, not to mention many burned prints by the Germans, it is clear that the commotion it provided had more serious reasons than just for preserving the morale of the country due to imminent war. The audacity of the film could finally establish Renoir as a representative auteur, providing a totally identifiable and effectively ambitious direction style without overly resulting to disrespectful pretentiousness in a similar way D.W. Griffith did with The Birth of a Nation (1915). It is, fortunately, a perfectly filmed social criticism, and not an insulting essay towards the mores of the entire country. The characters represented the extreme opposite of those portrayed in La Grande Illusion, the people that had caused such a lamentable and disastrous European situation already present in 1939, especially with arguably the greatest war humanity has gone through in its history coming along the way.
Once more, Jean Renoir develops the scenario and witty dialogue, counting with the collaboration of the (ironically) German screenwriter Carl Koch. The brilliance of the resulting screenplay is notorious throughout, originating several critique branches concerning love, romance and poverty mockery, but always preserving the main purpose of the film, making it one of the most extraordinary and well-developed screenplays in the history of the motion picture. Providing fully rounded characters, an unstoppably entertaining pace and unforgettable hypocritical one-liners, and dialogues that ultimately end up being hilarious because of the conviction with which they are naturally spoken, La Règle du Jeu does not have a main character, but several main characters. We have a collective protagonist, each of its members having peculiar characteristics that, as a whole, give birth to the everlasting defects present in the past and modern aristocracy. These are the same defects that put a tragic end to the personality's psychology, thus causing the sensation of not being able to tolerate oneself. Such repulsion towards life and towards everything that does not belong to the bourgeoisie is unconsciously reflected on them, which explains the catastrophe that they unleash upon them. The mansion only serves as the vehicle that drives them to insanity, especially when their own pride and ego are accentuated when becoming a "national hero" just because of setting a flight record, an undeniably human deed that does not contribute to the progress of humanity. Mass media is the one that slows it down in front of our very faces.
From lovable and attractively expert long shots that tend to last more than a minute to a high amount of quick shots during the chaos sequences, the cinematographic technique has been noticeably perfected since La Grande Illusion (1937), their racism being illustrated by one of the most haunting and memorable scenes ever filmed: the rabbit hunt, a scene that was beautifully referenced in Robert Bresson's Mouchette (1967). Slightly and almost unnoticeably resorting to surreal elements typical of Luis Buñuel, the absurdity of the film is undeniable, but arguably realistic. The mansion room from which the dinner guests are unable to leave in Buñuel's El Ángel Exterminador (1962) could be a direct reference to the bear suit Renoir's character (Octave) wears without anyone helping him to remove it. Members of the upper-class are incapable of helping each other to get out of their blind world of hypocrisy, let alone getting out of it for themselves.
As a character study it wonderfully works, using smart comedy and love triangles only to enlighten the human condition. As a social criticism, it also works, being arguably the best and most intelligent ever directed, as well as an influential one. Goodness and justice exists in this world in the sense that Renoir's definite masterpieces were about to become lost arts, but were reconstructed (perhaps) for the sake of humanity. Hated before and worshiped now, Renoir is one of the best filmmakers of French classic cinema, depicting the human being in its most complex, complete, accurate, natural, ambitious and empathetic way possible.