Friday, September 5, 2008

Rules of the Game (Rhoades)

‘Rules of the Game’ Remains a Tragic Comedy of Manners

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You probably can’t graduate from film school without having viewed Jean Renoir’s 1939 classic “Rules of the Game” (original French title: “La Règle du Jeu”). It may remind many modern-day moviegoers of Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park,” in that it’s a complex social commentary about the upperclass and their servants. But Renoir’s came first – by over half a century.

Even before that, director Renoir showed that he could deal with complicated stories and intertwining characters in his 1937 masterpiece “The Grand Illusion.”

Some viewers see “Rules of the Game” as a satire, but Renoir denied this, saying it was “an exact description of the bourgeoisie of our time.” Yet it’s as funny as it is tragic.

Like “Gosford Park,” the story takes place at a country estate. A famous aviator is enamored of the Marquis’s wife. The Marquis is having an affair with another woman. The Marquise’s maid is married to the gamekeeper. But a poacher working as a servant has eyes for her. Tragedy is inevitable.

Renoir himself played the character Octave, a sort of master of ceremonies in the film.
The French aristocrats did not appreciate being shown in an unflattering light, and Renoir’s film was reedited to reduce its bite, then later banned in its entirety.

An Allied air raid during World War II destroyed the original negative of the film. It wasn’t until the ’50s that two French film buffs worked with Renoir to reconstruct a complete print of the film.

Thus, LPTV’s Mary Sparacio is able to host a showing of “Rules of the Game” this coming Monday night at the Tropic Cinema, part of her series of old classics, complete with a discussion afterwards.

You’ll be impressed by the fluidity of the cinematography as the camera glides through the vast chateau, first following one character, then abruptly switching direction to follow another. And the ensemble upstairs-downstairs cast holds our attention as they interact. No wonder Altman paid homage to it with 2001’s “Gosford Park.”

Yes, “The Rules of the Game” is a must-see. You don’t even have to be a film student to enjoy it. [from Solares Hill]

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