During the first World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
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. Written by
One of the ways in which a film of some age can be immediately identified as great is that we do not really notice that it is old. The same elements that attract us contemporarily are as quickly noted in the landmark movies of yesteryear. So it is with `The Rules of the Game', Jean Renoir's flamboyantly provocative study of class distinction and human folly.
Long heralded as one of the great films of all time, it is of such complexity and has so much great dialogue that in fairness it should be viewed several times. There are so many complex shots and methods of capturing moments that one might discover a new item with each visit. These arrangements run the gamut of half a dozen actors criss-crossing the scope of a shot or the use of mirrors to perhaps focus our attention on something Renoir wants us to appreciate or tuck away for later rumination.
As the movie opens, Lise Elena (as the on-the-scene radio reporter) is perfect in conveying the energy and attention/attraction a record-setting Trans-Atlantic flight would have attracted at the time; the drama of the moment as pilot André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) lands amid pandemonium is caught exactly as it might occur. Renoir is giving us a hero that we almost immediately find is flawed and does not stand up to close inspection, as do none of the great political figures of that time. As the film progresses the hero Jurieux is found wanting in every regard, as it turns out.
Paulette Dubost (as the maid, Lisette) is introduced early as attendant to a key figure - Christine de la Cheyniest (played by Nora Gregor) and is so heartbreakingly pretty even watching her eat an apple is a guilty pleasure. Christine turns out to be the hub of a wheel of fascination, deception, and unrequited love yet herself is only as exotic as her foreign background. This Mutt and Jeff pairing is nicely shown in drawing room scenes as the high-society semi-charmer is fawned over by the lovely Lisette.
The players intermingle primarily at the chateau of Christine's husband Robert (played by Dalio) and what unfolds is a tale that documents the excesses of both classes. We might say we see a series of interpersonal clashes amidst clueless-in-love slackers with the occasional agenda-wielding guest thrown in; but all this is recorded with just the right touch of realism. So we find that Christine's heart may well lie with the adoring Jurieux, that Lisette is not exactly pining for her gamekeeper husband Schumacher, Robert's lover is not sure of her need for him (or he of his feelings for her) and throughout poor Octave remains a stolid yet curiously uncommitted friend to all.
The only aspect of the film that does not come across well is the sometimes overly hammy acting of some of the players. But with the exception of Renoir himself (playing Octave) this over-the-topness comes in fits and starts, never overwhelming us at all. Renoir's Octave could have been played by Jackie Gleason to great effect.
Very noticeable to current viewers is the great similarity of the more recent `Gosford Park' to this 1939 Jean Renoir film. While Robert Altman's film focuses on class differences so piquantly, `Rules' is actually more sublime. But that hanky-panky and its inevitably hurtful consequence knows no class despite `Rules' could not be more fascinating than the depiction given it by Renoir in this film.
Rating: Four Stars.
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