The Rules of the Game

Today's movie is The Rules of the Game, directed by Jean Renoir in 1939. I kept putting off watching it all day. The title made it sound exciting, but the plot summaries I kept reading sounded boring - some dull comedy about rich French people or something.Then, suddenly, on the way back from some errands, I thought I remembered this movie. "Isn't this the one," I said frantically to Anthony, "where all those French people stay in a chateau together, and they go hunting, and there's this really extended scene of them killing rabbits?" I could not think of any other plot details other than "kill rabbits", and I could not, no matter what, remember the title. "I hope that what I'm thinking of is the movie for today," I mused.

And it was! I think I saw this in a history of film class, and I remember being shocked that something that sounded so blah could actually be so awesome. The movie is funny, sad, and totally engrossing. I don't really understand a lot of the social commentary, but I still find it to be so funny and interesting.

The movie is, as I said badly above, a bunch of rich French people staying together at a chateau. They all have really tangled up love lives, though. Even their servants are involved in weird relationships. I wish I was better at explaining the plot of the movie, but because there are so many little relationships that intersect, it's sort of hard to pin down. I like this summary from IMDB, and although this is lazy, it's a lazy Sunday night, so it works for me. "Aviator André Jurieux has just completed a record-setting flight, but when he is greeted by an admiring crowd, all he can say to them is how miserable he is that the woman he loves did not come to meet him. He is in love with Christine, the wife of aristocrat Robert de la Cheyniest. Robert himself is involved in an affair with Geneviève de Marras, but he is trying to break it off. Meanwhile, André seeks help from his old friend Octave, who gets André an invitation to the country home where Robert and Christine are hosting a large hunting party. As the guests arrive for the party, their cordial greetings hide their real feelings, along with their secrets - and even some of the servants are involved in tangled relationships," (from IMDB).

The whole movie is full of funny little entanglements, and it's really fun to watch all of them. Most of this is shown through deep focus. Citizen Kane gets a lot of attention for it's use of deep focus, but this movie is pretty amazing when it comes to that particular technique. I love that there is always something interesting or funny going on in the background. It's often how we learn about what is going on with the other characters - someone races around the chateau, pulls open a door, and there are is another couple, kissing or trying to run away together, or some such thing.

I really love wherever this movie was filmed - that set was so huge but so perfect. Since so much of the comedy is in the background of scenes, it's amazing that the set is full of staircases, linked bedrooms, and doors to hidden servant's quarters. A huge number of doors and stairs all begin and end in one main room. People come flying in and out of so many different areas, but the camera is able to stay focused in just the main room for so much of it. It's very cool, and for me, adds to the comedy as well. I liked that they had so many different parts of the frame to appear in or later, vanish out of - it's really fun to watch it!

As I was babbling about earlier, there is more to the movie than just rich people and their affairs. There are all sorts of stories, and they go on different little adventures together. They put on a show for their friends and neighbors, and they also go hunting, as I remembered. The scene is pretty brutal - they draw rabbits out of hiding in the forest so that as they run out of cover, the rich people can lazily shoot at them. There is a long montage of rabbit-death, which is depressing, but is foreshadowing a very important scene at the end of the film (when someone is murdered due to a case of mistaken identity).  I think the foreshadowing is interesting, but the whole scene is just fascinating. The guests can't really hunt for themselves, but the lazy hunting seems to just draw out their more animalistic side, and as we see in the film, they are not quite so civilized after all.

There is some political and social commentary that is going on in the film as well, but I'll leave that for Ebert to discuss in his essay - check it out if you are interested. I'm sure it was explained to me in film class, but I probably forget it right away. When I watch this movie, I don't really think about or notice that aspect of it - I just enjoy the humor and shenanigans, and the cool camera work. I like that you don't need to get the political context to love the movie.  It's nice that it's still really accessible even though it might be a little older.

This is seriously one of my favorite movies, and I feel like anyone I know would love this movie. I remember renting it after I saw it in film class because I knew Anthony would like it (although I cannot remember if we actually watched it again). I know most of you guys would love this, because it's just such a great, funny movie, and great comedy always seems to translate really well, no matter how old it may be.  You can look at it as a great example of deep focus and camerawork and so on, but you can also just enjoy it on a totally surface level. I like to do both, but I'm too sleepy for any real analyze, and, unfortunately, want to save a little energy to watch the new season of True Blood. For shame.
The movie is streaming on Netflix and Amazon - let me know if you check it out!

Have any thoughts on The Rules of the Game? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Rules of the Game
Buy or rent it on Amazon

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