|The Rules of the Game|
|Directed by||Jean Renoir|
|Produced by||Claude Renoir|
|Written by||Jean Renoir
|Music by||Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (opening)
Roger Désormières (arranger)
|Editing by||Marthe Huguet
|Distributed by||Janus Films (US)|
|Release date(s)||July 8, 1939|
|Running time||106 minutes|
The Rules of the Game (original French title: La Règle du jeu) is a 1939 French film directed by Jean Renoir about upper-class French society just before the start of World War II. Renoir's film is in part an adaptation of Alfred de Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne, a popular 19th-century comedy of manners; Renoir takes the film far beyond the pleasantries of a typical comedy of manners, creating instead a biting and tragic satire that captured the frenetic emotions of France on the cusp of World War II.
The film begins with the aviator André Jurieux landing at Le Bourget Airfield just outside Paris, France. He is greeted by his friend, Octave, who reveals that Christine, the woman André loves, has not come to the airfield to greet him. André is heartbroken. When a radio reporter comes to broadcast his first words upon landing, he explains his sorrow and denounces the woman who has spurned him. Christine, an Austrian, is listening to the broadcast from her apartment in Paris as she is attended by her maid, Lisette. Christine has been married to Robert de la Chesnaye for three years. Lisette has been married to Schumacher, the gamekeeper at the country estate, for two years, but she is more devoted to Madame Christine. Christine's past relationship with André is openly known by her husband, her maid, and their friend Octave. After Christine and Robert playfully discuss André's emotional display and pledge devotion to one another, Robert excuses himself to make a phone call. He arranges to meet Geneviève, his mistress, the next morning.
At Geneviève's apartment, Robert announces he must end their relationship, but invites her to join them for a weekend retreat to Robert and Christine's country estate, La Colinière, in Sologne. Later, Octave induces Robert to invite André to the country as well. They joke that André and Geneviève will pair off and solve everyone's problems. At the estate, Schumacher is policing the grounds, trying to get rid of rabbits. Marceau, a poacher, sneaks onto the grounds to retrieve a rabbit caught in one of his snares. Before he can get away, Schumacher catches him and begins to march him off the property when Robert demands to know what is going on. Marceau explains that he can catch rabbits, and Robert offers him a job as a servant. Once inside the house, Marceau flirts with Schumacher's wife, Lisette.
At a masquerade ball, various romantic liaisons are made. In the estate's dark, secluded greenhouse, Octave declares that he, too, loves Christine and they impulsively decide to run away together. Schumacher and Marceau, who have both been expelled from the estate after a fight, observe the greenhouse scene and mistake Christine for Schumacher's wife, Lisette, because Christine is wearing Lisette's cape and hood. Octave momentarily returns to the house and, while there, Lisette talks him out of running off with Christine. Consequently, he sends André to meet Christine. When André reaches the greenhouse, Schumacher mistakes him for Octave, who he believes is going to steal his wife. He shoots and kills André, which Robert subsequently explains to his guests as an "accident".
The film was initially condemned for its satire on the French upper classes and was greeted with derision by a Parisian crowd on its première. The upper class is depicted in this film as capricious and self-indulgent, with little regard for the consequences of their actions. The French government banned it, but after the War it has come to be seen by many film critics and directors as one of the greatest films of all time. Critics placing it at the top of their lists include Nick Roddick, Paul Schrader, and Bertrand Tavernier.
Renoir was deeply hurt by the initial reception and edited the movie from 94 minutes to 81 soon after the premiere. He reduced the role of Octave, which he played, including Octave's brief infatuation with Christine during the ending. The omission of this complication during the ending gave rise to the notion of a "second ending". The film was restored to 106 minutes in 1959 with Renoir's approval and advice. One scene not located was Lisette talking about affairs among the maid staff.
The Rules of the Game is noted for its use of deep focus so that events going on in the background are as important as those in the foreground. In a 1954 interview with Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut, reprinted in Jean Renoir: Interviews, Renoir said "Working on the script inspired me to make a break and perhaps get away from naturalism completely, to try to touch on a more classical, more poetic genre." He wrote and rewrote it several times, often abandoning his original intentions altogether upon interaction with the actors having witnessed reactions that he hadn't foreseen. As a director he sought to "get closer to the way in which characters can adapt to their theories in real life while being subjected to life’s many obstacles that keep us from being theoretical and from remaining theoretical".
The film's style has had an impact on numerous filmmakers. One example is Robert Altman, whose Gosford Park copies many of Rules of the Game's plot elements (a story of aristocrats in the country, aristocrats and their servants, murder) and pays homage with a direct reference to the infamous hunting scene, or "la chasse", in which no one moves but the help.