Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.
In a lot of ways, it’s a good problem to have. La Regle du Jeu is an astonishingly deep and layered film and moves in multiple directions at once, each successfully and with astonishing nuance. This film is currently ranked fourth in the Sight and Sound poll of greatest films ever made. It started in tenth on the first list and spent most of the rest of the last century in second. Second-best film in history. It’s one thing to see that and consider it. It’s another thing to have the film play out and realize that its position is entirely justified and that second might be more appropriate than its current fourth. It’s surprising when one considers that this is a sort of farce and a play of manners of the pre-World War II French aristocracy.
I will do my best to quickly summarize this embarrassment of film riches. Daredevil pilot Andre Jurieux (Roland Toutain) has just completed a solo cross-Atlantic flight, but is depressed because the woman he loves, Christine (Nora Gregor) is not there to meet him. This is because Christine is married to Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio). The Marquis reacts to her non-attendance by trying to break things off with his mistress Genevieve (Mila Parely) while Christine’s friend Octave (director Jean Renoir himself) tries to convince Andre to lighten up. To settle all the hurt feelings, both Andre and Genevieve are invited out to the Marquis’s place in the country for a shooting party. We also learn that Christine’s attendant Lisette (Paulette Dubost) is married to their game warden Schumacher (Gaston Modot). Schumacher has his own battle with a poacher named Marceau (Julien Carette), who also evidently has a thing for Lisette that appears to be mutual.
Whew. Once at the house, people pair up, fight each other, chase each other, try to hurt each other, and threaten to run away with each other. In the end, tragedy strikes, and all of the good times and casual infidelity comes to a crashing and sad end. I don’t want to reveal more—it’s worth seeing on your own.
As I said at the top, I’m not even sure where to begin. To I start by discussing the nature of the farce going on? Do I begin with the character of Octave, who seems to not belong to the social set of everyone else but seems to be involved in everything that is happening? Do I instead discuss the nature of the relationships here, with the idea of casual infidelity in the upper classes copied and intensified by the servants? Is the most important feature the triviality of the characters, the wastefulness of their desires and games and their essential lack of value and human character? There are so many possibilities, and each one is completely legitimate for this film. Each scene opens up multiple potential paths of analysis.
I’m overwhelmed. Instead of discussing all of that above, I’d like to go into the title. The actual translation of the French is The Rule of the Game--one rule, not plural rules. So what is that rule? Even that is open to interpretation. From my perspective, the only rule in question deals with walking away with someone else’s wife. Andre wants nothing more than to steal away into the night with Christine, but decides that instead of doing that, he must tell her husband what is going on. That, he tells us, is the rule. There’s a certain honor at stake in committing so low and base a deed. That Andre, who may or may not belong to this social set, is the only one who seems to follow this rule has its consequences, which play out in the final ten minutes.
What I have left unsaid here is just how brilliant much of the comedy in this film is. The relationships are frequently perverse and often exploited for both high and low comedy. Schumacher chases Marceau around the party with a pistol, firing at him, and most everyone is unconcerned, thinking it is part of the entertainment—and because no one gets hurt. Earlier in the film, during the hunt, people joke about a friend who once shot himself on such an occasion and bled out in 20 minutes, as if this is the funniest thing they have heard in a week.
I’ll be honest here; I don’t think that after a single viewing I can adequately examine this film with any accuracy. There’s simply far too much here to get on a single viewing. I can say that La Regle du Jeu is the best thing I have seen this year—not my favorite or one I liked the best, but the best overall film, and one of the best I have ever seen. This is one I look forward to revisiting in the future and many times over.
I’ll say it. Jean Renoir should be as well known to average movie fans as Alfred Hitchcock. This is as technically perfect as a film gets, and except for the black-and-white photography and some glitches in the print I watched, La Regle du Jeu has not aged a day.
Why to watch La Regle du Jeu: It is considered objectively as one of the greatest films ever made.
Why not to watch: If you miss the satire, you miss the film.