Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Rules of the Game

"The Rules of the Game" (Jean Renoir, 1939) Disillusioned by what he saw as a soft, indulgent society, Jean Renoir made a film to warn his fellow French of their lassitude (which always goes over big!) when Europe was facing a horrible threat, and found his film hated and ridiculed from all corners (Renoir relates a story of watching horrified at the premiere as a man in the audience set fire to a newspaper and threw it at the screen). Attempting to salvage his film, Renoir cut and cut and cut, but no one warmed to it...and during the war the only existing intact copy had been destroyed. Then, it became acknowledged as one of the Great Films of All Time. One can see why. Renoir is never subtle about his Grand Hotel of mis-fits, who are fiddling about while Rome burns, jumping in and out of each other's pants and business. Cruel but polite, they possess charm but no morals, they occupy their time, but not their lives, and Renoir plays no favorites, being as tough on the staff as the boor-geoisee. Supposedly, much of the film was ad-libbed, with Renoir providing a specific skeleton of the story for the actors to follow. This brings a great deal of freshness to the film, but also some of the cast can't help but go a bit over-board. The final irony is saved for last as a plucky rebound from tragedy is just another example of a selfish shallowness. Prescient, uncompromising (but also very entertaining!), "The Rules of the Game" is an open invitation to laugh at those horrible rich people, and has the audacity to hold up a mirror.

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