By February 1939 war was brewing near and a feeling of doom was hanging over Europe. The great French director Jean Renoir anticipated for war and troubled by it, he created a remarkable comedy of manners, an absurd comic farce that ends in tragedy. A total box-office failure in 1939, Jean Renoirs The Rules of the Game is now considered not only one of the greatest films ever made but an amazing advancement of lighting and cinematography. The film tells a story about several lovers taking a weekend to a country estate, and Renoir remarkably constructs husbands and wives, masters and servants, and lovers and adulterers, and places them together to commit several unmoral acts with one another. Once Renoir gets his characters to all pair up, the game of love begins and the characters roam through halls and bedrooms, swapping partners and creating new quarrels, while in the meantime trying to portray to the other guests that they are a classy bourgeoisie society. In the words of Dudley Andrew, "the most complex social criticism ever enacted on the screen." Renoir develops a groundbreaking technique with his style of cinematography as he clashes montage and editing together within several of his shots, creating a unity with space and time with the arrangement of people and objects. With several stories and events being depicted at once, Renoir creates a depth of field which creates different layers of action for the spectator to look at allowing characters to come and go in the foreground and background, sometimes disappearing in the distance and then reappearing in close-up. It's amazing to really see how gracefully Renoir moves the camera from rooms and corridors elsewhere in the house, effortlessly advancing half a dozen courses of action, so that at one point during a moment of foreground drama a door in the background opens and we see the latest development in another relationship. When originally released for its première The Rules of the Game met with an outraged response of boos and howls by a Parisian crowd, and the film was initially condemned for its satire on the French upper classes, saying the upper class was depicted as unmoral and self-indulgent, with little regard for the consequences of their actions. The French and the Vichy governments banned the film for being "demoralising", and it was removed from every cinema in Paris which deeply hurt Renoir, and he initially left France and moved to Hollywood a year later to avoid working under the Nazi occupation; abandoning the film to its fate. Unfortunately during one of the Allied bombings, the original negative of the film was destroyed, leading many to believe that a complete version would never be seen again. After the war, pieces of the negative were found, and the painstaking task of resembling the film was undertaken. The film was finally restored to its original running time along with Jean Renoir's approval and advice, and in the credits dedicated his resurrection to the memory of the great French film critic Andre Bazin. Like great wine throughout the years The Rules of the Game is now considered one of the greatest films in the world and usually ranks next to such acclaimed films as Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, Orson Welles Citizen Kane, Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, and Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thieves. The newly restored version on Criterion blu ray looks exceptional and like Marcel Carne's newly restored Children of Paradise, it truly is a cause for celebration, as the rich clear new picture gives this masterpiece a newly reborn life.
The film starts with Andre Jurieux an aviator who just landed at Le Bourge Airfield right outside Paris after he just accomplished an amazing feat of crossing the Atlantic in 23 hours. He is greeted by reporters, journalists and hundreds of people when arriving, including his closest friend Octave, (who is played by none other than Jean Renoir himself).
When Octave tells Andre the woman he loves Christine didn't show up Andre is heartbroken, because his inspiration for this incredible feat was because of her. When a radio reporter comes to broadcast his first words upon landing, Andre says, "I'm very unhappy. I've never been so disappointed in my life. I made this flight for a woman, and she's not here to welcome me. I tell her this publicly: She's disloyal!" When walking away from the reporter Octave tells Andre, "you're a hero, but you just behaved like a spoiled kid. If Christine won't see you, it serves you right."
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, Marquis de la Cheyniest for three years now and her maid Lisette has been married to Schumacher, the gamekeeper at the country estate, for two years, but is more devoted to Madame Christine then her husband Schumacher, and has had multiple lovers during her marriage. Christine's past relationship with Andre is openly known by her husband, her maid, and their friend Octave.
While alone with Lisette, Christine asks her about her lovers. "What do they say to you? Do they kiss you?" Lisette says, "If I let them. Same old story. The more you give them the more they want. Men are all the same." When Christine asks about friendship with a man, Lisette says, "Friendship with a man? When pigs have wings!" Christine walks into the den to talk to her husband Robert as he shows her his new mechanical toys that he just purchased and collects. Robert playfully asks Christine about André's emotional display. "So, you heard what André Jurieux said? I can well imagine what he thought. He'd risked his life. How could you have refused him? Men are so naive."
Christine and Robert love one another, and Robert asks if she trusts him. Christine says, "I trust you completely." Robert excuses himself to make a phone call as he then ironically arranges to meet Genevieve, his mistress to have a word with her. Once Genevieve gets off the phone with Robert her social friends are gossiping about Christine and explain to each other how it must have been hard for her to marry a foreigner and move from her own homeland of Austria. When they ask Genevieve about love she sums it up by saying, "love as it exists in society is merely the mingling of two whims and the contact of two skins."
The next morning at Genevieve's apartment, Robert announces to her how they must end their secret affair because he can't keep up these lies anymore to his wife any longer. Genevieve knows if Christine knew her husband lied to her from the start of their marriage she would never forgive him and take him back. Genevieve says to Robert, "believe it or not you mean a lot to me. I don't know if it's love or force of habit, but if you leave me, I'll be very unhappy, and I don't want to be." Robert feels bad and decides to invite Genevieve to join them for a weekend retreat to Robert and Christine's country estate, La Colinière, in Sologne; where they will have a day of rabbit shooting and later that evening throw a party.
While driving down an empty road Andre loses control over his pain for Christine and drives the car in a ditch almost hurting him and Octave. Octave is furious by his suicidal behavior and decides to walk home yelling at Andre, "your nuts!" Andre says he should understand how he feels since Octave loves her too and Octave says, "Sure I do, in my own way. She's like a sister to me. We grew up together." Christine's father was a famous music conductor in Vienna and before he died Octave promised him he would look after Christine; especially after she got married to Robert and decided to move out of her homeland of Austria.
Later that day Octave arrives at Christine's estate to talk to her about Andre and he tells her how Andre wanted to die and almost drove the both of them into a tree. Octave then persuades Christine to invite Andre to the country as well as a sort of peace-offering. She first doesn't like the idea but eventually agrees as long as Robert doesn't mind. Octave then asks Robert, in which he agrees jokingly saying to Octave that maybe Andre and Genevieve can hook up to get her off his back, and then that would solve everyone's problems.
When Robert and Christine finally make it out to the estate, Schumacher is already policing the grounds, trying to get rid of the rabbits. Marceau, a poacher, sneaks onto the grounds to retrieve a rabbit caught in one of his snares and before he can get away Schumacher catches him and begins to march him off the property; until Robert demands to know what is going on. Robert asks Marceau what he does for a living. Marceau says, "actually I mend chairs, but times are tough."
Schumacher doesn't like Marceau and wants him escorted off but Robert likes him and offers him a job. "See his lordship understands me not like this big bully!" mocks Marceau to Schumacher as Robert and him walk away. Genevieve, Lisette and several others including a retired general his associate Saint-Aubin, various socialites, neighbors and a full staff of servants eventually arrive to the estate quickly trying to get out of the pouring rain. Once Octave finally arrives with Andre everyone wants to shake Andre's hand for the great accomplishment he just made; hailing him a hero.
When he finally sees Christine she gives him a friendly kiss on the cheek and says respectfully, "dear friends, I must confess something regarding my relationship with Andre Jurieux. I had a small part to play in his exploit. This is how...while preparing for his flight, Andre came to see me often. We spent long hours together. Very pleasant hours. Hours marked by the rare sign of friendship. He told me about his projects and I listened. It's important to listen. In this case, it wasn't a waste of time. I'm very proud, and I wanted you all to know it."
There's an interesting scene where it shows Lisette and the rest of the cooks, maids and workers downstairs having their dinner gossiping about their master's affairs and love lives. Marceau walks downstairs and tells all of them at the table that the Lord of the estate offered him a job and so they allow him to join the table. When he meets Lisette for the first time they automatically start flirting with one another, and Lisette likes his goofy sense of humor.
All the guests go to bed early that night to get ready for the big hunting game early the next morning. Robert pulls Christine aside and says "my dear I'm so grateful for you. For not making me look foolish. It was delicate, in front of everyone. Jurieux handled it well too. It was a trying moment, and you were admirable. My compliments." Before Lisette leaves Christine's bedroom for the night she asks Christine if she met the new servant named Marceau. Christine tells her to be careful because she has a husband named Schumacher. Lisette says to Christine before leaving, "And Mr. Octave's friend's name is Andre Juriex." Before the general goes into his room for bed he tells Octave that Christine handled Andre's arrival well and says, "it confirms my opinion that our little Christine has class. And that's a rare thing nowadays."
The most iconic and the most controversial scene in the film is the hunting party the very next morning as everyone gathers together on the La Colinière and head off in seperate groups on Robert's large estate property and get ready to start hunting down and shooting birds and rabbits simply for sport and entertainment. There's a montage of shots of everyone firing their weapons at several rabbits and birds and Renoir purposely shows the graphic killings of each innocent animal being killed, not for food but for sport and pleasure. You can tell Renoir is focusing on the brutal murders of these animals which is a symbolic sign of death and tragedy. A lot of people discuss the meaning of the explicit death of the rabbits by gunfire and some suggest Renoir was making a statement on the upcoming war with the Nazi's and others say that it is a foreshadowing of the death of a human that will inevitably occur at the end of the film; which ironically is also because of a firearm.
After the game everyone is heading back to the La Colinière and while Christine is observing a squirrel through field glasses she looks up and can see her husband Robert out on the hill kissing Genevieve. She is hurt and angry of her husband's betrayal. What she doesn't know was Robert was telling Genevieve he didn't love her anymore and was kissing her goodbye, but Christine doesn't know that and now decides to get back at her unfaithful husband.
After coming back from the hunting party Christine walks into Genevieve's room and notices her packing, wanting to leave. She outright says to Genevieve that she knows about the affair and says, "have I ever tried to hinder your relationship with my husband." Genevieve is shocked that Christina knows about the affair but Christina assures her that everyone does. She says to Genevieve, "good old Robert. He's so kind, so sensitive. But he's like a child. He's incapable of hiding a thing. When he tells a lie you can tell right away." Christine then tells Genevieve that she doesn't want her to leave because then her husband won't bother her, so she can have a little fun of her own.
Later on that evening they're a few filmed plays for the guests and during a masquerade ball various romantic liaisons are made. First off, Christine wants to get back at her husband by having her own affairs while at the same time Morceau eventually moves in on Lisette in the kitchen downstairs playfully fooling around with her under the kitchen table. Lisette's husband Schumacher walks in on the both of them and furiously starts chasing Morceau around the whole estate. Robert decides to put on a play for his rich socialite friends with Octave humorously wearing a bear costume for the story. Christine knows that while the play is going on it would be a good time to make her get way and sneak out with Saint-Aubin; a completely random man.
Andre sees this and decides to go after Christina because of his jealously while at the same time Octave seems to need assistance in getting his bear suit off but everyone else is busy with their own drama. While Robert goes off to find his wife who has mysteriously disappeared, Morceau grabs him and pulls him aside saying, "Schumacher's after me, on the account of his wife. We were playing around. He saw us and he's not happy. Oh your lordship, women are charming. I like them a lot. Too much in fact. But they spell trouble." Robert responds by saying, "your telling me." Morceau then tells Robert, "Whether it's to have a woman, leave her or hold on to her, first I make her laugh. That way, her guard's down and you have your way with her." Robert decides to help Morceau by making sure the coast is clear and that Schumacher in no where in the area.
When Andre finds Christina and Saint-Aubin alone, Andre picks a fight with the man as the two of them duke it out on the staircase. Eventually after the fight Christine impulsively tells Andre in private that she loves him and for them to run away together that very night. Andre agrees but believes the right thing to do is let Robert know what they plan on doing since those are the rules of being a gentlemen. In a glorious scene Robert presents a musical show to his guests showing them all his musical instruments and toys play a song as Robert stands aside very pleased on presenting his toy collection. After the show Robert walks in on his wife and Andre embracing each other and Robert says to Andre, "well you have what you want...Your stealing my wife! I'll give you this you bastard!" and the two get into a brawl with each other while Octave walks in with Genevieve witnessing the altercation.
Genevieve starts screaming over the fighting and during the argument Octave rescues Christine from all the craziness and pulls her away. Christine tells Octave that she told Andre that she loved him and that she wanted to run away with him. Octave says, "well it's about time!" Octave then asks her, "Do you love him?" She then replies, "I don't know anymore!!" Octave then tells her,"There's one thing you forget: You see, he's a hero..." as he explains her the situation the two lovers are fighting for her in the background.
Meanwhile Marceau is still running from Schumacher with Schumacher yelling, "I'll kill him!!" Things really get out of hand when Schumacher pulls out a pistol and starts shooting at Marceau which stops the fight between Robert and Andre with the both of them realizing Christina had left them. Genevieve all intoxicated then says to Robert, "And now, darling, let's talk about the two of us." Robert rejects her and Genevieve begins to scream and get all hysterical so Robert and Andre take her by the arms and legs and drag her upstairs into her room so she doesn't bother the other guests.
Suddenly Schumacher starts firing at Marceau right in the middle of the ball room full of guests which frightens all of them, but Marceau luckily hides behind a larger woman and stays out of Schumacher's site. Robert when hearing the gunshots tells one of his employees to put an end to this farce and his employee says, "which one, your lordship?" Finally some of Robert's men tackle Schumacher and take away his weopon. One of the funniest lines in the film is when Robert dismisses Marceau and Schumacher and tells them to leave that night. What he says to Schumacher is classic, "I have no choice but to dismiss you. It breaks my heart, but I can't expose my guests to your firearms. It may be wrong of them, but they value their lives."
Near the climax of the film, it's getting late and all the guests head to their rooms as Robert assures the general and the guests that all the drama that they witnessed earlier is under control. While Schumacher and Marceau are leaving, Robert and Andre apologize about the altercation and make up. Octave has moved out in the greenhouse with Christine as they both share stories about her father and how Octave came to love and care for the both of them. While walking off the property, Marceau and Schumacher both see Octave and Christine in the greenhouse but since Christine is wearing Lisette's jacket and hood they mistake Christine for Schumacher's wife. "Got your gun? Let him have it!" says Marceau. Schumacher replies, "I used up my bullets on you!" He then runs off to get another one of his guns from the shed.
While Christine and Octave are alone together in the greenhouse, comes one of the most touching scenes of the film. Christine talks of fine men and she then says Octave is one; but he believes to be a failure. Christine says, "No, you're not. But you need someone to take care of you...I'll take care of you." But Octave believes he's too old for her. Christine says, "You fool...You know...It's you I love. Do you love me?" Octave slowly looks up at her and says, "Yes Christine...I love you." They both hold one another and kiss. This is the only time where two people in the film are truly in love and when saying those words actually mean it.
Octave and Christine both decide to run off together that very night and when Octave momentarily returns to the house to grab her jacket, Lisette talks him out of running off with Christine; because he doesn't have money to support her. Octave realizes this and instead decides to give Andre Christine's jacket. He lies and says to his best friend, "she's waiting for you. In the greenhouse." As Andre leaves excitedly Robert turns to Octave and says to him, "You love her too." While Andre starts heading towards the greenhouse and happily yells out for Christine a gunshot goes off. Schumacher mistakes Andre for Octave, who he believes is going to run off with Lisette.
When the guests come out from inside and ask what the gunshot sound was Robert subsequently lies and explains to his guests that a game warden thought he saw a poacher and accidentally shot and killed Andre. Saint-Aubin tells the general that Robert La Chesnaye used a new definition of the word 'accident'. The general says, "No, this La Chesnaye has class. And that's become rare, my dear Saint-Aubin. That's become rare..."
By February 1939, it no longer seemed evident that the surrender of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler at Munich had “saved the peace.” A sense of doom was beginning to hang over Europe. In this atmosphere, Jean Renoir, anticipating war and deeply troubled by the mood he felt around him, thought he might best interpret that state of mind by creating a story in the spirit of French comic theater, from Marivaux to Musset, a tradition in which the force that sets every character in motion is love and the characters have no other occupation to interfere with this pursuit.
The result was The Rules of the Game, a dazzling accomplishment, original in form and style, a comic tragedy, absurd and profound, graced by two of the most brilliant scenes ever created. It is also, in the words of Dudley Andrew, “the most complex social criticism ever enacted on the screen.” A total box-office failure in 1939, The Rules of the Game now ranks as one of the greatest masterpieces of world cinema.
Throughout the 1930s, Renoir had worked at the margins of the French movie industry, exploring aspects of contemporary French society while developing a style in opposition to the one that emanated from Hollywood and dominated the film world. Renoir arranged his actors in deep space; long takes in deep focus allowed them to move freely in this space and gave them time to seek and achieve convincing characterizations. Then, in the late thirties, intent on creating rhythm and balance within complex narrative structures, he began constructing his films around matched opposing pairs, a form that helped bring coherence and resonance to his intricate story lines.
As he mastered this style, Renoir’s social commitments deepened. He became, in the midthirties, the film director of the left, his protagonists often working-class rather than bourgeois. Still, for all his command, his films were seldom commercial hits. But then two big successes, Grand Illusion (1937) and La bête humaine (1938), encouraged him to act out a dream—to form his own production company, wherein he could work when and as he pleased. The Rules of the Game, the most expensive and ambitious French production of 1939, was the first film made under the auspices of that organization.
As he wrote the script, Renoir referred to the film as “an exact description of the bourgeoisie of our time.” He was so confident in his vision that he later claimed to have started shooting with only one-third of the script complete: “In reality, I had this subject so much inside me, so profoundly within me, that I had written only the entrances and movements, to avoid mistakes about them. The sense of the characters and the action and, above all, the symbolic side of the film was something I had thought about for a long time. I had desired to do something like this for a long time, to show a rich, complex society where—to use a historic phrase—we are dancing on a volcano.”
For his dancers, he finally chose not big stars but talented supporting players, old friends like Marcel Dalio, Gaston Modot, and Julien Carette, with an unknown Austrian princess, Nora Grégor, as his leading lady, Christine. He filled out the cast with such amateurs as the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and himself played a major role, as Octave, the meddling court jester to the idle rich. Consequently, it is impossible to identify the central character in The Rules of the Game. “There is none,” Renoir said. “The conception I had from the beginning was of a film representing a society, a group. I wanted to depict a class.”
The class, of course, is the haute bourgeoisie, the upper middle class, whose blindness and intransigence had helped create the hopeless situation of Europe in 1939. To reveal the folly and the tragedy of that group and of his time, Renoir derived his action from two French classics, Alfred de Musset’s Les caprices de Marianne and Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’ Le mariage de Figaro, then shaped the cast into matched opposing pairs. For characters, he began with four from Les caprices de Marianne: jealous husband, faithful wife, despairing lover, and intervening friend. Doubling this group then yielded the central opposing pairs in The Rules of the Game: matched sets of husbands, wives, lovers, mistresses, and friends—one set among the masters, the other among the servants, thus evoking one of Renoir’s perennial themes, the relations among classes.
Luxurious town houses define the social setting of the film, and two remarks reveal its moral climate: “Love as it exists in society is merely the mingling of two whims and the contact of two skins” and “The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.”
Everyone has their reasons, but in The Rules of the Game, the reason is always the same: I love her/him. The differences lie in the acts each character believes this reason justifies. These range from suicide to murder.
Once his central opposing pairs are formed, Renoir isolates his characters in the swampy beauty of the Sologne, France’s hunting country, where their game of love becomes a danse macabre through the halls and glittering salons of the Château de la Colinière, with the dancers changing partners as they go—a surreal scene that swings from joy to despair, from burlesque to tragedy, as the bourgeois world spins out of control. Richard Roud calls it “an astonishing combination of lengthy shots to create an effect of vertiginous simultaneity.”
The centerpiece of Renoir’s intricate structure, the pivot on which the action turns, the symbolic core of his critique of French society, is the hunt, the scene that most clearly reveals the volcano that seethes beneath the dancers. In a film whose shots often run for a minute or more, here fifty-one shots appear in less than four minutes, in a mounting rhythm of cutting and movement that culminates in an awesome barrage of gunfire as, in twenty-two shots—fifty-three seconds—twelve animals die. Surely one of the most powerful scenes in all of cinema.
Though the world of the film seems at times one of sheer chaos, The Rules of the Game, seen whole, is lucid and as precisely constructed as the marquis’ mechanical instruments. Unfortunately, few Parisians in 1939 ever saw it whole. Later in his life, Renoir could laugh as he pronounced The Rules of the Game “a magnificent flop, perfect, complete,” for by then his “frivolous drama” was hailed as a masterwork. But in 1939, he was not amused. At the premiere, the Paris audience howled and whistled and threw things at the screen. In a week, ten minutes had been cut from the film, but audiences still hooted. In a few more weeks, the exclusive opening run had ended; this most ambitious production of the year had quickly become a commercial disaster. Renoir was so discouraged he thought he must either give up cinema or leave France. He did move to Hollywood a year later to avoid working under the Nazi occupation, abandoning the film to its fate.
Booed, banned, nearly destroyed, The Rules of the Game was reconstructed in 1959, with the approval of Renoir, to a length of 106 minutes. Thus viewers of this disc are afforded a privilege available to almost no one when the film was new: that of seeing The Rules of the Game as Jean Renoir intended it.
Jean Renoir originally adapted The Rules of the Game from Alfred de Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne, which was a popular 19th-century comedy of manners. Renoir said, "My first intention was to film a transposition of Caprices de Marianne to our time. It is the story of a tragic mistake: the lover of Marianne is taken for someone else and is bumped off in an ambush".
Because of recent commercial hits like Grand Illusion and La bete humaine it encouraged Renoir to form his own production company where he could work when and how he pleased. The Rules of the Game became the most ambitious and expensive French production of 1939, and was the first film made under the auspices of the organization. He was so confident in his vision he claimed to have started shooting with only one-third of the script complete saying, "In reality, I had this subject so much inside me, so profoundly within me, that I had written only the entrances and movements, to avoid mistakes about them. The sense of the characters and the action and, above all, the symbolic side of the film was something I had thought about for a long time. I had desired to do something like this for a long time, to show a rich, complex society where to use a historic phrase; we were dancing on a volcano."
When The Rules of the Game was first released in 1939 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, saying the upper class was depicted as unmoral and self-indulgent, with little regard for the consequences of their actions. The French government banned it, which deeply hurt Renoir, and he thought he must either give up cinema or leave France. The French and the Vichy governments banned the film for being "demoralising", and it was removed from every cinema in Paris.
After the outraged audience response of boos and howls, distributors demanded that Renoir cut the film drastically. He edited it from 94 minutes to 81 soon after its première. He reduced the role of Octave, in 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'. Renoir eventually did move to Hollywood a year later to avoid working under the Nazi occupation, abandoning the film to its fate. After the War, it has now come to be seen by many film critics and directors as one of the greatest films of all time.
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".
Watching The Rules of the Game before and now watching it again I'm always enchanted by all the character's, separate storylines and their naivety on life and love; and how Renoir does not have one central character throughout the structural layout of the story. Renoir said, "There is none. The conception I had from the beginning was of a film representing a society, a group. I wanted to depict a class." The film tells a story about several lovers taking a weekend to a country estate, and Renoir remarkably constructs husbands and wives, masters and servants, and lovers and adulterers, and places them together to commit several unmoral acts with one another. Once Renoir gets his characters to all pair up, the game of love begins and the characters roam through halls and bedrooms, swapping partners and creating new quarrels, while in the meantime trying to portray to the other guests that they are a classy bourgeoisie society.
The Rules of the Game is such a splendid and often funny look on the Bourgeois lifestyle, the crazy love entanglements of each character, and how Renoir can make humor out of such strong elements like infidelity and tragedy. Like Octave says in the film: "The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons." I think that's really the main point of the film, is that everyone 'does' have their reasons for acting the way they do. Andre has his reasons because he feels betrayed by the woman he loves for abandoning him and marrying into a high society who he believes they all to be "rich aristocratic snobs." Genevieve has her reasons because Robert continued to carry on an affair with her even after he married Christine fully aware that she loved him. Christine has her reasons because she wants to stick by her husband but when she discovers his affairs her innocence is shattered and she is now confused on loyalty and love. Lisette has her reasons because she believes staying loyal for her job and her boss is more important to her future then being loyal to her husband. And Schumacher has his reasons (even though he goes to the extreme) because he is catching a stranger fooling around with his wife. The only real innocent person in this film is Octave who is torn between his friend Andre and his devotion to Christine. The one real guilty character is Marceau because he's an instigator of trouble running around stirring trouble up trouble with a married woman, even though Lisette does provoke it and allow him to do it. Marceau also is probably the funniest part in the whole film because we know he originally shouldn't have been at the party in the first place.
I don't even think anyone truly loves each other in this film except for Octave and Christine, but their friendship blinds their true love that they both long for. For all these other characters love is merely a game. Some of them abide by certain rules like Schumacher and Christine and some abide by other rules. I think for Andre his love for Christine is merely delusional, Schumacher thinks of love like more of a duty than a feeling, Marceau likes to chase woman instead of actually catching them, and Lisette seems to care more for the feelings of her boss then her own husband. No one really takes love seriously and yet they say the word 'love' all the time, as a way to pass the time. Its unfortunate but unenviable but the destinies of the gamekeeper and the aviator come together at the end because they both have the illusion that they are sincere in their love. It is Robert who I believe understands the game of love and life the most, which is why his true passion is for mechanical wind up musical instruments. At least with these machines (unlike life and people) they work exactly as expected with no surprises or disappointments.
Renoir develops a groundbreaking technique with his style of cinematography as he clashes montage and editing together within several of his shots, creating a unity with space and time with the arrangement of people and objects. With several stories and events being depicted at once, Renoir creates a depth of field which creates different layers of action for the spectator to look at and get involved in. The brilliant cinematography in several scenes allows characters to come and go in the foreground and background, sometimes disappearing in the distance and then reappearing in close-up. It’s extraordinary how Renoir gracefully moves a weightless camera from rooms and corridors elsewhere in the house, effortlessly advancing half a dozen courses of action, so that at one point during a moment of foreground drama a door in the background opens and the spectator can see for a slight second the latest development in another relationship.
The Rules of the Game is also noted for its use of deep focus so that events going on in the background are as important as those in the foreground. Because of this depth of field that Renoir creates throughout the composition of the scenes, the spectator gets to decide what to look at which can create several different interpretations with several different viewers. In a remarkable sequence of lighting and shadow Renoir shoots one long tracking shot which occurs during the theatre reenactment. This tracking shot resembles a spotlight as it moves throughout the shot and within the shadows of the audience casting itself upon all the major players of the story, laying out their upcoming agenda for the evening. With the use of the spotlight, Renoir is projecting the main players dramas as if their on a stage for the spectator’s entertainment; which makes for an interesting contrast to the theatre reenactment that is simultaneously going on in the background for the other guests at the party. This long take and many of the compositions later in the film which covers the action, has the spectator follow the director throughout the estate, forcing some images upon the viewer and also making others much more ambiguous within the structure of the story.
The most iconic and the most controversial sequence in the film is the hunting scene on the La Colinière. This sequence shows people gathering together to hunt down and kill birds and rabbits simply for sport. There's a montage of shots of everyone firing their weapons at several rabbits and birds and Renoir purposely shows the graphic killings of each innocent animal being killed, not for food but for sport and pleasure. You can tell Renoir is focusing distinctively on the brutal murders of these animals which is a symbolic sign of death and tragedy. A lot of people discuss the meaning of the explicit death of the rabbits by gunfire and some suggest Renoir was making a statement on the upcoming war with the Nazi's and others say that it is a foreshadowing of the death of a human that will inevitably occur at the end of the film; which ironically is also caused by a firearm. Watching this scene of rabbits getting shot and slowly wither and die in graphic detail slightly bothered me.
Jean Renoir is considered one of the greatest French directors of all time and he inspired Orson Welles and several other filmmakers with his groundbreaking camera techniques and his lighting styles, and many of his films are now considered masterpieces. In 1932 he made another film that was also a comedy of manners called, Boudu: Saved from Drowning about a homeless man that's taken in by a wealthy family; but he is rude and ungrateful. La Cheinne is about a man who has a terror for a wife he is stuck with. Renoir then made a romantic short called, Partie de campagne which is considered one of the greatest film shorts of all time. His bleak masterpiece La Bête Humaine is about a violent man with serious violent tendencies. His film Grand Illusion which is about a prison camp during World War I, like The Rules of the Game, is considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest films of all time. He also made a beautiful European techno color film called The River which is about three British girls growing up in India. The great director Wim Wenders has cited that The Rules of the Game is what got him started as a filmmaker saying, "In the years before the Steadicam, you wonder how a film camera could possibly have been so weightless." The Rules of the Game has since become regarded as a classic of prewar French realism, showcasing the elemental but also an advancement of cinematography. Robert Altman was a huge fan of The Rules of the Game and even said, "I learned the rules of the game from The Rules of the Game" and even made a film very similar in style and tone with the film Gosford Park which also ends with a murder. Paul Schrader said "The Rules of the Game stands above all other films because, quite simply it has it all." Director Alain Resnais says, "I only saw it in 1944. And it still remains, I think, the most overwhelming experience I have had in the cinema in my whole life." The poll of international critics by the Sight & Sound magazine ranked The Rules of the Game #10 in 1952, and it then moved it up to #3, behind Citizen Kane and Vertigo in 2002. Empire magazine put The Rules of the Game at number 13 in its list of "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. Behind all the comedy, alliances and romances, The Rules of the Game in the end is a tragedy. There are several tragedies for several of the characters at the end of the film and it's not Andre's murder. Another is Octave leaving without saying goodbye to Christine because of the guilt of Andre's death. What's also really tragic is that Octave wont be able to spend his life with the woman he's always loved, and that Christine will then remain with Robert; a husband she doesn't truly love. What is masterful about this film is it's theories on life, love and tragic coincidences which are so very true. Very few people find 'true love' in their life and actually make it last. It's because of these 'rules of the game' of life that occur that make it sadly impossible for most of us.