Posted at 5:16 PM on May 27, 2008
by Euan Kerr
"La Règle du jeu" ("The Rules of the Game") has been on my 'to-see' list for ages, but I have to admit I didn't know a great deal about Jean Renoir's 1939 drama.
It's a scathing depiction of the French upper-class, which also doesn't pull its punches much with regard to the rest of pre-WWII French society. A large group of aristocrats and hangers-on invited for a week of hunting at a marquis' country estate embarks on a mad mess of misdirected and unrequited love affairs.
For all the passion, appearances are still the important thing. Even when the fun turns to tragedy there are few consequences for bad behavior (except of course for the poor guy lying dead in the wings.)
The film caused an outcry when it was first shown in Paris, so much so that Renoir immediately re-edited the film, taking out about five minutes. His criticisms stung too much. The film was then lost in a fire caused by a wartime bombing raid.
The film that is now in circulation is a reconstruction, which includes scenes which weren't in the 1939 version. It's 25 minutes longer in fact, and even at a quick glance a much more measured critique and clearly has more depth and development.
The DVD I watched allows you to compare the films, particularly the final scenes of the movie. It's quite fascinating, but also makes you wonder if Renoir may actually have royally messed up his own film in the editing. "The Rules of the Game" is acclaimed as one of the best films ever made, but these are more recent accolades, received after the film was redone.
What cannot be denied is the way the film which appears simple and straightforward, really gets under your skin, and reveals a sophistication of character which is quite remarkable.