Fans of the late director Robert Altman should under no circumstances be unaware of this truly fine work of art by one of cinema’s greatest craftsmen. Jean Renoir’s “La Regle Du Jeu” (The Rules of the Game) got off on a bad start, originally opening to a non-receptive audience in 1939. The film’s negatives were also considerably damaged during the war, only to be completely restored in 1959.
This belated release during the French New Wave movement allowed different classes of society to succinctly admire a work that was created far ahead of its time.
With the foundation of an old 19th-century comedy of manners by Alfred de Musset, Renoir (son of the impressionist painter) chose to make a subtle yet contemptuous comment on the senseless conventions of pre-war French society in the face of grave crises.
Now cleaned up with a new digital restoration, we are first introduced to an exhausted Andre Jurieax (Roland Toutain), touted as the next Charles Lindberg, as he lands his bi-plane in heroic fashion after crossing the Atlantic solo. He is met by his friend Octave (Renoir in one of his more memorable cameo roles), French diplomats and a media frenzy, but not by his beloved Christine. She is also a close friend of Octave’s, and whom he says was the impetus behind the journey.
Not put out, the now-married Christine switches off the radio broadcast and continues to prepare for her group’s pleasure trip to their countryside estate La Coliniere. While Christine’s husband attends to his own outstanding relationships, Octave convinces them to invite Andre along with them to their estate. Hilarious allegory ensues as the group heads out on their hunting/adulterating excursions (largely referenced in Altman’s “Gosford Park”).
To the casual viewer, possibly expecting a quaint portrait of the 1930’s French lifestyle, the film is quite deceptive in that it does not beatify or denounce any of the characters outright — for instance painting their faces in hard shadows or filling their mouths with adversarial dialogue.
Instead, the filmmaker made the conscious decision to outwit the viewer, even incorporating many of his own personal attributes into the characters, especially Octave. The whimsy creatures of this theatrical anecdote are also in a perpetual state of uneasy happiness throughout the picture, creating the dark underbelly that no one on the stage at La Coliniere wants to admit exists.
“La Regle Du Jeu” was dedicated to the still-influential film critic Andre Bazin, rightly so as he encouraged the realization of many directors’ creative fruits, especially during the New Wave.
In many ways, this film was a culmination of those talents and can be timely for every generation due to its universal conclusions.
For one, almost no screen time is wasted here, with the constant rigmarole of the debutants and their hubbies acting out their confused understanding of love. Only during choice moments, like on the hunt when a terrorized rabbit meets his slow, agonizing end, does the audience have a chance to take a break from the sensation of their anti-reality game and reflect on its repercussions.