The Rules of the Game (1939)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Ensemble Film, Romantic Drama, Psychological Drama  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

Jean Renoir's masterpiece and his last French film before he went to Hollywood, Rules of the Game (1939) is an intricate, tragi-comic indictment of a decadent European culture on the verge of collapse and war. Renoir's innovative "observational" style of long takes, deep focus, and gracefully subtle camera movements relates the characters to their environment and to each other, communicating the complexity of the class-based society seen in microcosm at the film's central country house. Rather than overtly manipulating the viewer's attention and emotional responses, Renoir's style allows the audience to share his ambivalent view of human nature, playing out multiple, metaphorically loaded love triangles among the guests and servants at the estate. Setting up the story around contrasts between tradition and modernity, individual passion and social rules, and nature and culture (revealing the corrupting force of culture in a brutal hunting sequence), Renoir presents a declining society doomed by its intractable conflicts and adherence to superficial manners. In his role as Octave, Renoir literally orchestrates the events but even he, the wise artist, cannot prevent violent tragedy. After provoking a riot at its Paris premiere, Rules of the Game was edited to 80 minutes and finally banned by French censors as "demoralizing"; the Nazis banned it during the Occupation as well. Although the original negative was destroyed in World War II, Rules of the Game was restored under Renoir's supervision to its original length (minus one short scene) in the late 1950s, debuting to great acclaim at the 1959 Venice Film Festival. In this version, Rules of the Game has since come to be considered one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.