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La Regle du Jeu


‘…we have the elements of a farce here, but La Regle du Jeu starts like a comedy, and ends in the starkest, bleakest tragedy…’

It’s worth remembering that the two world wars of the 20th century had their origins in the same dangerous trait that we’re dealing with today; untrammelled greed. If WWII came directly from German nationalism fermenting after the ‘stab in the back’ from WWI, the seeds for both conflicts grew from the race for world domination that many countries shared responsibility for at the turn of the century. War was very much on the cards in 1939 when Jean Renoir’s masterpiece came out, but his film proved too hot to handle; critics hated it, audiences stayed away, and the film was hastily recut to save face. Since then, The Rules of the Game has come through the field over the decades and taken its rightful place as one of cinema’s most important films, and this welcome BFI restoration shows exactly why Renoir is well worth returning to in 2023.

‘The co-pilot’s seat was replaced by an extra fuel tank…’ is a nice bit of tech-talk detail from a celebrated opening scene in which young pilot André Jurieux lands his plane to a cheering crowd in French France; André (Roland Toutain) is however in no mood to celebrate and complains that the object of his affection Christine (Nora Gregor) is nowhere to be seen. That’s probably because she is married to Robert, Marquis de la Chesnaye (Marcel Durio), a nobleman who doesn’t exactly have the moral high ground in a romantic dispute since he’s having an affair with Geneviève de Marras (Mila Parély); we have the elements of a farce here, but La Regle du Jeu starts like a comedy, but ends in the starkest, bleakest tragedy. ‘You call it progress, we call it exhibitionism,’ is a verdict on the high-toned aristocracy viewed here; one notable detail is that even through Robert sees the pilot as a potential threat, he invites André Jurieux to his house party anyway, reasoning that keeping them apart won’t help smooth things over at all. Such an avoidance of confrontation, verging on complacency, is part of what Renoir rails against here; the world is going to pot and nobody GAF.

As the Marquis’ invitees arrive at his ostentatious chateau for some dancing skeleton action, Renoir is amongst the guests as Octave, sporting a bear costume that marks him as adjacent to the forces of nature, which have strong representation here; Renoir was a great director of actors, but no slouch with rabbits, frogs and squirrels either. The aristocracy are busy with such frivolous bagatelles as their Negress animatronics, Belote, ping-pong and other quaint, introverted past-times, but interlopers keep appearing on the doorstep, not just Andre, but a poacher brought into the household. The foppish Marquis himself, looking to modern eyes like Joe Pesci cosplaying a Marc Almond biopic, seems to have atrophied by his own inertia, and unwilling to act until fate has brought tragedy to the group; the idea of society living on the edge of a volcano, as Renoir put it, makes this a disaster movie where the disaster is off-screen but inevitable.

‘You can fight hatred but not boredom’ is the punch-line; The lazy upper-classes have shirked their responsibilities, and are free to fiddle while the world ignites and no amount of shared interest in ‘pre-Columbian art’ is going to save them. Renoir’s use of deep focus photography and his creative use of costumes (check out these dancing skeletons below!) makes La Regle du Jeu one of the great achievements of French cinema, but one that shouldn’t be put behind glass to admire as the past. We live at a time where the new and old money financial aristocracy seem oblivious to the general poverty and desperation around them; a revolution is coming, and the lead-up to 1939 and avoiding what came after should be uppermost in the minds of rich and poor alike.

Thanks to the BFI for providing blu-ray access to this title, out now in the UK.

Special features

   Restored in 4K in 2021 by La Cinémathèque française and Les Grands Films Classiques, and presented on Blu-ray

   Newly commissioned commentary by film writers David Jenkins and Trevor Johnston

   Image par image: La Règle du jeu (1987, 43 mins): Jean Douchet and Pierre Oscar Lévy provide a detailed analysis of La Règle du jeu

   Leslie Caron on La Règle du jeu (2016, 18 mins): the actor introduces Renoir’s classic as part of the Screen Epiphanies series at BFI Southbank

   La Vie est à nous (1936, 64 mins): French Communist Party election film depicting political turmoil and the threat of fascism, with creative input from Jean Renoir and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others

   Pheasant Shooting (1913, 1 min): newsreel item on the start of the shooting season in a Norfolk game reserve

   Society on the Moors (1921, 1 min): newsreel footage of Lord and Lady Savile’s shooting party on the Yorkshire Moors near Hebden Bridge

   Stills gallery

   First pressing only illustrated booklet with a new essay by David Thompson and an essay by Ginette Vincendeau originally published in Sight and Sound; notes on the special features and credits

Product details

RRP: £19.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1486 / PG

France / 1939 / black and white / 107 minutes / French language with English subtitles /original aspect ratio 1.37:1 // BD50: 1080p, 24fps, LPCM 2.0 mono audio (48kHz/24-bit)

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  1. For a long time this was the film numero uno. When i was involved in the university film society back in the day it was an annual pick along with the Marx Bros. If you played a marx Bros film you could pretty well guarantee the takings would be enough to cover all the other films the buffs wnated to see but the general student didn’t.

  2. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never seen this one. But it’s a good reminder and 2023 feels like a good time to revisit these topics. There is an eerie similarity to the world right now to some historical moments we’d do well not to re-live.

    • I think this was in Freevee if you don’t fancy paying twenty notes for a Blu-ray. I’d caught this a couple of times, on tv and dvd, but it’s got that lush deep focus black and white look that makes it worth the HD. This is a great film that captures a moment in history; sure, it’s bleak, but going into a war always is. Having the internet in the mix will accelerate the decline of individual freedom, and soon we’ll be using the rich as decorations. I’d prefer good governance to bloody revolution, but I don’t think we’re getting a choice…

        • I hear that previously respected critics are using uncouth words like B*********e in their reviews, a sure sign of advanced entropy and end of days. There is nowhere further to go in our race to the bottom.

  3. It’s a great movie with great moments, like Renoir looking at himself in the mirror when the maid tells him that the girl he’s in love with can’t possibly love him, and realizing she’s right. But I can’t say it’s ever been a big favourite of mine. Don’t know why, but I’ve always preferred Italian to French cinema.

    • I can imagine that for someone like yourself, the films of Tinto Brass outshine those of Renoir. But the general opinion is the cognisyetti is quite the opposite.

        • I bet you do, I bet you have Sasquatch round for dinner ever Tuesday. They probably thing it civilizes you to spend time with your intellectual superiors. What do you talk about?

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