The Rules of the Game
|The Rules of the Game|
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jean Renoir|
|Produced by||Claude Renoir
|Written by||Jean Renoir
|Music by||Joseph Kosma
Roger Désormière (Musical arrangement)
|Edited by||Marguerite Renoir|
|Nouvelle Édition française|
|Distributed by||The Gaumont Film Company (1939 French release)
Les Grands Films Classiques (1959 re-release)
|Running time||106 minutes|
The Rules of the Game (original French title: La Règle du jeu) is a 1939 French film directed by Jean Renoir and starring Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost, Mila Parély, Marcel Dalio, Julien Carette, Roland Toutain, Gaston Modot, Pierre Magnier and Renoir. The film is a comedy of manners that depicts members of upper-class French society and their servants just before the start of World War II. It shows the moral callousness of the characters on the eve of impending destruction. The most famous line of dialogue from the film is "Everyone has his reasons."
Renoir utilized sophisticated cinematic techniques such as deep focus cinematography and a constantly moving camera. The film's original budget of 2.5 million francs grew to 5 million francs, making it the most expensive film made in France up to that time, requiring additional funds to be obtained.
Renoir's career in France was at its pinnacle at the time, and the film was highly anticipated. However, its premiere was met with anger and disapproval by both film critics and the public. Renoir cut the film from 113 minutes down to 85 minutes, but even then, the film was a critical and financial disaster. It was banned in France in October 1939.
For years, the 85-minute version of the film was the only one available; despite this, its reputation gradually grew. In 1956 boxes of original material were re-discovered, and a re-constructed version of the film premiered that year at the Venice Film Festival, with only one minor scene from Renoir's first cut missing. Since then, the film has often been cited as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema. Numerous film critics and directors have praised the film, and have cited it as an inspiration for their own work.
Aviator André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) lands at Le Bourget Airfield just outside Paris and is greeted by his friend Octave (Jean Renoir), who reveals that Christine (Nora Gregor), the woman André loves, has not come to the airfield to greet him. André is heartbroken. When a radio reporter comes to broadcast his first words upon landing, he explains his sorrow and denounces the woman who has spurned him. Christine, an Austrian, is listening to the broadcast from her apartment in Paris as she is attended by her maid, Lisette (Paulette Dubost). Christine has been married to Robert, Marquis de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio) for three years. Lisette has been married to Schumacher (Gaston Modot) the gamekeeper at the country estate, for two years, but she is more devoted to Madame Christine. Christine's past relationship with André is openly known by her husband, her maid, and their friend Octave. After Christine and Robert playfully discuss André's emotional display and pledge devotion to one another, Robert excuses himself to make a phone call. He arranges to meet Geneviève, his mistress, (Mila Parély) the next morning.
At Geneviève's apartment, Robert announces he must end their relationship, but invites her to join them for a weekend retreat to Robert and Christine's country estate, La Colinière, in Sologne. Later, Octave induces Robert to invite André to the country as well. They joke that André and Geneviève will pair off and solve everyone's problems. At the estate, Schumacher is policing the grounds, trying to get rid of rabbits. Marceau, a poacher (Julien Carette), sneaks onto the grounds to retrieve a rabbit caught in one of his snares. Before he can get away, Schumacher catches him and begins to march him off the property when Robert demands to know what is going on. Marceau explains that he can catch rabbits, and Robert offers him a job as a servant. Once inside the house, Marceau flirts with Schumacher's wife, Lisette.
At a masquerade ball, various romantic liaisons are made. In the estate's dark, secluded greenhouse, Octave declares that he, too, loves Christine and they impulsively decide to run away together. Schumacher and Marceau, who have both been expelled from the estate after a fight over Lisette, observe the greenhouse scene and mistake Christine for Lisette, because Christine is wearing Lisette's cape and hood. Octave momentarily returns to the house and, while there, Lisette talks him out of running off with Christine. Consequently, he sends André to meet Christine. When André reaches the greenhouse, Schumacher mistakes him for Octave, who he believes is going to steal his wife. He shoots and kills André, which Robert subsequently explains to his guests as an "accident".
Background and writing
In 1938 the French film industry was booming and Renoir was at the height of his career. He had had three hit films in a row and La Grande Illusion had won the awards from the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review and the Venice Film Festival. The financial success of La Bête Humaine made it easy for Renoir to secure enough financial backing to form his own production company and in 1938 he founded NEF (Nouvelle Édition Française) with his brother Claude Renoir, André Zwobada, Oliver Billiou and Camille Francois. All five personally invested 10,000 francs into the company and intended to produce two films per year. The company was modeled after the American film production company United Artists, which was formed in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Mary Pickford as a film distribution company for independent artists. Renoir rallied his friends in the film industry around the company and got financial support from René Clair, Julien Duvivier, Jean Gabin and Simone Simon. NEF's headquarters on the Rue la Grange-Batelière was sublet from Marcel Pagnol's production company. On December 8, 1938 Georges Cravenne published a press release in Paris-Soir that announced that Renoir and Pagnol were about to sign an agreement to procure a large theatre where they would publicly screen "the films that they would direct from then on." The Rules of the Game was the only film produced by the company.
In May 1938 Renoir completed the historical drama La Marseillaise and wanted to make a comedy. He was also anxious about the Munich agreement and the strong possibility of another world war, and wanted to film a "happy dream." He wrote a synopsis for a film called Les Millions d'Arlequin, which had similar characters to The Rules of the Game. When first conceiving the film, Renoir was inspired by classical French art, such as the works of Marivaux, Beaumarchais, and especially Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne. Renoir initially meant to adapt Les Caprices de Marianne and NEF first announced the film as an adaptation of the French classic. Renoir later claimed that he never intended to directly adapt Les Caprices de Marianne but only re-read it and other classics of French literature for inspiration.
After returning from lecturing in London in January 1939 Renoir left Paris to work on a script, telling a reporter that his next film would be "an exact description of the bourgeois of our time." Renoir, Carl Koch and Zwoboda went to Marlotte to work on the script. Because Renoir wanted to allow the actors to improvise their dialogue, only one-third of the film was scripted and the rest was only a detailed outline. Renoir later said that his "ambition when I made the film was to illustrate this remark: we are dancing on a volcano." Renoir called the film a "divertissement" for its use of baroque music and aspects of classical French comedies.
Renoir's initial inspiration of Les Caprices de Marianne lead to the four main characters in the film correlating with those of the play: a virtuous wife, a jealous husband, a despairing lover and an interceding friend. In both the play and the film the interceding friend is named Octave. Octave is also the only of the four characters inspired by the play that also shares character traits with its counterpart: in both Octave is a "sad clown" full of self-doubt and self-pity. The characters names constantly changed in different versions of the script and Renoir said that in an early draft André Jurieux was an orchestra conductor instead of an aviator.
Renoir originally wanted the entire cast from La Bête Humaine for the film, including Fernand Ledoux, Simone Simon, Jean Gabin and Julien Carette. Gabin was offered the role of André but turned it down, accepting a role in Marcel Carné's Le Jour Se Lève instead. He was replaced by Roland Toutain. Simon was offered the role of Christine but wanted 800,000 francs, which was one-third of the film's entire budget. Simon's salary request was vetoed by NEF administrator Camille Francois. Ledoux was offered the role of Schumacher. He was married to Simon at the time so he declined when her salary request was denied and took a role in Maurice Tourneur's Volpone instead. He was replaced by Gaston Modot. Claude Dauphin was offered the role of the Marquis de la Cheyniest but refused it, instead acting with Simon in Raymond Bernard's Cavalcade d'amour. Renoir then cast Marcel Dalio as the Marquis. Years later Dalio asked Renoir why he had been cast after having typically played burlesque or traitorous roles. Renoir told Dalio that he was the opposite of the cliché of what a Marquis was, and that Dalio was the only actor he knew that could portray the insecurity of the character. Renoir's brother Pierre Renoir was cast as Octave and Carette was cast as Marceau.
Francois suggested newly famous stage actress Michele Alfa for the role of Christine, and Renoir went with Zwobada and his wife Marguerite Renoir to see her performance in a play. While at the play Renoir noticed Nora Gregor in a box seat in the audience and asked about her during the intermission. He learned that Gregor was the wife of Prince Ernst Rudiger von Stahremberg, an Austrian nobleman. Renoir became friends with Gregor and her husband, getting to know them over several dinners in Paris. Stahremberg was forced to resign his leadership role in the Heimwehr – a paramilitary fascist party – because Gregor was Jewish and he was anti-fascist. When Germany annexed Austria in March 1938 Gregor and Stahremberg fled to France. Renoir said that they were "in a state of great disarray. Everything they believed in was collapsing." Gregor was an actress from the Viennese Burgtheater and had appeared in some films, including Carl Theodor Dreyer's Michael in 1924. Gregor's first husband had been the concert pianist Mitja Nikisch, son of the renowned conductor Arthur Nikisch of the Leipzig Opera and (according to film theorist Charles Drazin) a possible inspiration for some characteristics of Octave.
Despite objections from his NEF colleagues, Renoir hired Gregor for the role of Christine. She was older than the original character and he made changes in the character based on Gregor's personality and on their dinner conversations, such as making Christine the daughter of an Austrian conductor. Many of Renoir's friends believed that the director fell in love with Gregor shortly after casting her. Zwoboda said that Gregor had "that which Renoir loved above all; an incontestable class, a style, the gestures and bearing of a great distinction." Renoir said that he cast Gregor because of her Austrian accent, which he believed would create "a little barrier…between her and her surroundings," and because of her appearance, which he considered "birdlike" and "sincere".
Renoir finished casting the remaining roles by late January. When asked who the main character of the film was, Renoir answered "There isn't any! My conception at the beginning — and at the end — was to make a film d'ensemble, a film representing a society, a group of persons, almost a whole class, and not a film of personal affairs."
Filming began in Sologne for exterior scenes in the country, and outside the Chateau of La Ferté-Saint-Aubin. Renoir later said that he chose Sologne because his father Pierre-August Renoir "regretted that he had never been able to paint [it]. How well I understand the sincerity of those regrets before these beautiful landscapes of Sologne, in astonishing colors, of a grace so melancholy yet so gentle." Renoir said that Sologne's mist "took me back to the happy days of my childhood."
The cast and crew arrived in Sologne between February 6 and 15. Renoir's son Alain worked as an assistant camera operator and Dido Freire worked as the script girl. Renoir's assistants on the film were Koch, Zwobada and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Tony Corteggianni was hired as a technical advisor for the rabbit hunting sequence. The cast and crew stayed at the Hotel Rat in Lamotte-Beuvron. Heavy rainfall prevented the start of shooting in Sologne for several weeks and Renoir re-wrote parts of the script to accommodate the rain. While Renoir finished the script the entire company played cards and bonded, describing it as a happy time in their lives just before the horrors of World War II began. Paulette Dubost said that shooting the film was great fun.
The delays caused Pierre Renoir to drop out of the film because of prior commitments to stage plays in Paris. Renoir then asked Michel Simon to play Octave, but Simon was busy with other projects. Renoir finally cast himself, later saying that he "was just waiting for the moment when Pierre would say 'Why don't you play the role yourself, Jean?' He didn't have to ask me twice." He added that after having gained experience and confidence as a director his "most stubborn dream has been to be an actor." Renoir re-wrote the role of Octave to better suit himself since he and Pierre were much different physically and personally.
In order to raise additional funding for the over-scheduled production, Zwoboda had used the success of La Bête Humaine to sell advanced screening rights in larger theatres to Jean Jay, the director of the Gaumont Film Company. When shooting in Sologne finally began it went very slowly due to the constant improvisations by the actors and Gregor struggling with her role. Jay visited the set and was unhappy with the slow pace and with Renoir's performance. But the cast and crew admired Renoir and enjoyed the carefree atmosphere on set, forgetting all about the impending political situation going on at the time. Journalists often visited the set and wrote positively about the production. The film was shot almost chronologically in Sologne (and again in Joinville), which Renoir considered important for the actor's performances. Renoir said that he didn't need to do much directing since the actors were so involved in their roles. When directing himself, Renoir arranged the blocking first, then acted in the scenes. Jay pushed Renoir to finish filming on location in Sologne and move the production to the sets built for it at the Pathé studios in Joinville, Val-de-Marne. Renoir finally agreed and left Zwobada, Cortegganni and Cartier-Bresson in Sologne to shoot B-roll footage of the rabbit hunt sequence. Hundreds of animals were killed during filming and local people were used as stand-ins for the actors.
Filming on the built sets in Joinville continued at a slow pace. Renoir would often film fifteen to twenty takes of individual shots and change dialogue on the set, making previous takes useless. Film historian Joel Finler said that the film "truly evolved during its making, as Renoir worked on writing and rewriting the script, balancing and rebalancing the characters and relationships, plots and subplots." Cartier-Bresson said that the improvisation during filming was like a jam session; both cast and crew members were encouraged to throw out ideas and dialogue would often change the morning of the shoot.
On March 16, 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, breaking the Munich Agreement, which caused the French Army to start mobilizing in anticipation of a coming war. Shortly afterward, several of the film's electricians and technicians left the film in order to join the army. Set designer Eugène Lourié left because he was Jewish and a communist, and Max Douy took over as the film's set designer.
During filming, Renoir became disappointed by Gregor's performance. He began to cut her scenes and add new scenes for Paulette Dubost and Mila Parély. Film historian Gerald Mast said that Gregor's performance was "as haunting and bewitching as a plastic giraffe." During production, Jay told Renoir that he hated his performance as Octave. Renoir offered to replace himself with Michel Simon, but Jay refused since two-thirds of the film had already been shot. Jay asked Renoir to instead cut out Octave's scenes which had not yet been shot, but Renoir refused, and throughout shooting Renoir kept adding new scenes for Octave. Shooting in Joinville finally wrapped in May 1939; the film was over schedule and the rented soundstage was needed for other films. Renoir had originally wanted to release the film in June because the potential war would make it impossible to release the film after the summer.
Renoir continued shooting additional scenes with some of the actors. The opening scene at the airfield was shot in mid-June at the Bourget Airport in the middle of the night with whatever extras they could find. Renoir had almost run out of money when he filmed the car crash scene, which was shot very quickly, with Alain Renoir as the camera operator. Renoir never liked the scene and initially cut it out. Overall the film was nine and a half weeks over schedule when in finally wrapped in June.
Despite beginning the shoot in love with Gregor, the infatuation remained unrequited. During the film's production Renoir broke up with his common-law wife Marguerite Renoir, and began a romantic relationship with script girl Dido Freire, who he had known for twelve years and was Alain Renoir's nanny. Eventually Dido became Renoir's wife.
Initial editing and previews
Renoir edited the film while shooting, and his first cut was three hours long. He and editor Marguerite Renoir completed a 113 minute final cut of the film in July 1939. Jay hated it and demanded that Renoir make cuts, including the excision of Renoir's entire performance as Octave. Renoir refused to completely omit Octave, but agreed to remove 13 minutes from the film.
The Rules of the Game was the most expensive film ever produced in France when it was released. Jay had agreed to add 2 million more francs to the budget. The total cost of the film was over 5 million francs. The film's original budget had been 2.5 million francs, which already made it the most expensive French film of that year.
The film had an elaborate ad campaign that began one week before its release in anticipation of it being another hit film for Renoir. This campaign included a promotional crossword puzzle published three days before the film's opening night, with free tickets going to the winner.
The first preview screening of the 113 minute version of the film took place on June 28, 1939. It received a poor reaction from the audience. On June 29 the film was screened for the Minister of National Education and Fine Arts Jean Zay and for the jury of the annual Louis Delluc Prize for best French film. When the awards were announced ten days later Marcel Carne's Le Quai des brumes won the top prize and The Rules of the Game was not even a runner-up. Due to the success and popularity of Renoir's previous films, The Rules of the Game was highly anticipated and Zay had expected to award it the prize. Renoir later claimed that he thought the film would be marketable.
Release and reception
The Rules of the Game premiered on July 7, 1939 at the Colisée Theatre in Paris to a full house. It was shown on a double billing with a patriotic documentary about French history. At the screening members of the audience booed the film, Paulette Dubost claimed that people at the screening got into fights, and one person attempted to set fire to the theatre. Renoir said that he "depicted pleasant, sympathetic characters, but showed them in a society in the process of disintegration, so that they were defeated at the onset…the audience recognized this. The truth is that they recognized themselves. People who commit suicide do not care to do it in front of witnesses."
Film attendance in France is typically low in July, and the film ended its run at the large Colisée Theatre after only three weeks due to poor attendance. It later played at the Aubert-Palace in Paris and at the Obert Palace. Renoir said "I was utterly dumbfounded when it became apparent that the film, which I wanted to be a pleasant one, rubbed most people the wrong way." Renoir had initially wanted to screen the film at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, but this idea was dropped after the disastrous release in France.
Claude Gauteur surveyed reviews of The Rules of the Game published in Paris and said that twelve were "unqualifiedly unfavorable", thirteen were "favorable with reservations" and ten were "favorable." Many reviews criticized the film for being "unpatriotic, frivolous and incomprehensible." One mixed review came from Nino Frank of Pour Vous, who called it "a copious work, even too much so, very complex and profoundly intelligent from one end to the other." The Le Figaro review called it a "bizarre spectacle" which was "one long succession of errors…a heavy-handed fantasy with wooly dialogue." In the 1943 edition of his famous Histoire du cinéma, Robert Brasillach wrote that The Rules of the Game was amongst Renoir's most "jumbled" and "confused" films, but applauded the biting satire, which he considered Proustian. Brasillach also praised the technical variation employed by the director and ultimately concluded that the film was an unrealized masterpiece. In the United States, a negative review from Variety said that Renoir "attempts to crowd too many ideas into 80 minutes of film fare, resulting in confusion."
While the film itself received mostly unfavorable reviews, the majority of critics praised the acting, including Renoir's, and only the far right-wing press criticized Marcel Dalio's performance. In July 1939 a right-wing French newspaper criticized the film for portraying the Jewish Marquis married to the Austrian Christine. The Union Sacrée, a French clerical fascist group, organized demonstrations wherever the film was screened. Renoir was a known pacifist and supporter of the Communist Party, which made him unpopular in the tense weeks before World War II began. Years later Renoir insisted that "there was no question of contrivance; my enemies had nothing to do with its failure. At every session I attended I could feel the unanimous disapproval of the audience."
In the weeks that followed the premiere Renoir cut the film down from its original 113 minutes to 100 minutes, then to 90 minutes, and finally to 85 minutes. Renoir told Margurite Renoir and Zwobada to cut the scenes that had upset the audience the most. Renoir said that he mostly cut his own scenes or dialogue, "as though I were ashamed, after this rebuff, of showing myself on the screen." He later defended his own performance as being awkward the way that Octave should have been. The cut footage took away Octave's complexity and completely changed the character's motives at the end of the film. In the 85 minute version Octave does not intend to run away with Christine and merely lends André his coat for warmth before sending him out to the greenhouse. The omission of this plot point resulted in the misconception of the film having an alternative ending, which was first reported by Roger Manvell after he had seen the film at its London premiere in 1946. At one point Jean Jay told Renoir to restore the film back to the 100 minutes version "to avoid commercial disaster", but none of the shorter versions of the film improved its reception or attendance. When asked about the film's poor reception with audience members, Renoir said "I thought I was gentle with them, and they thought I was laughing at them."
In October The Rules of the Game was officially banned in France for being "depressing, morbid, immoral [and] having an undesirable influence over the young." Other films that were similarly banned included Marcel Carné's Le Quai des brumes and Le Jour Se Lève. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that "we are especially anxious to avoid representations of our country, our traditions, and our race that changes its character, lie about it, and deform it through the prism of an artistic individual who is often original but not always sound." The Marriage of Figaro, one of the inspirations for the film, had also been banned for similar reasons.
After the end of World War II the 85 minute version of the film was re-released in Paris on September 26, 1945, and it was banned once again.
Renoir said that of all his films, The Rules of the Game was the biggest failure at the time of its release. He also said that its failure "so depressed me that I resolved to either give up the cinema or to leave France." During shooting Renoir was offered to film an adaptation of Tosca by Italian producers and agreed to the deal on July 14 in order to get out of France. Renoir and Carl Koch traveled to Rome on August 10 for pre-production, but had to leave on August 23 after the German-Soviet pact made his French citizenship an issue. Koch directed the film instead and Renoir immigrated to Hollywood.
In 1942 during one of the Allied bombings of Boulogne-sur-Seine, the G.M. Film Lab was destroyed along with the original negative of The Rules of the Game. In 1946 a print of the 85-minute version was found in a box and a new print was made. This version was occasionally screened at cine-clubs, cinematheques and film festivals and its reputation slowly began to grow. It finally premiered in New York City in April 1950, but was critically unsuccessful. A New York Times review called it "one for the buzzards" and said that "the master has dealt his admirers a pointless, thudding punch below the belt." However, in 1952 the 85-minute version was included in Sight & Sound's inaugural list of the ten greatest films ever made.
In 1956 film enthusiasts Jean Gabarit and Jacques Marechal founded the Societe des Grands Films, a film restoration company focused on neglected films. The Rules of the Game was one of the first endeavors of the company, and they persuaded Camille Francois to sell them the rights to the film. With Francois' help they discovered records that led to 224 boxes which had been found at the bombed G.M. Film Lab site. These boxes included negative prints, duplicated prints and sound mixes of the film. With the help and advice of Renoir and Jacques Durand, Gabarit and Marechal restored most of the cut footage from Renoir's original version and pieced together a new 106-minute version of the film.
In the summer of 1959 Renoir saw the reconstructed version of the film for the first time and left the theatre in tears. He said that "there is only one scene missing in this re-construction, a scene that isn't very important. It's a scene with me and Tatuin that deals with [Lisette's] 'sexual interests.' " The restored version premiered at the 1959 Venice Film Festival, where it was called a masterpiece. Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Louis Malle were all in attendance and publicly called Renoir their master while praising the new version of the film. In 1961 Howard Thompson of the New York Times said the film "completely justified its European reputation…[it is] a memorable experience." The reconstructed version of the film was exhibited in France on April 23, 1965. It won the 1966 Bodil Award for Best Non-American Film.
The Rules of the Game is remembered as being a commentary on the moral callousness of the European upper class and their servants just before the outbreak of World War II. While making the film, Renoir knew that a new world war was coming and later said that there was a "sense" of it in film, writing that "it is a war film and yet there is no reference to the war." This sense of doom began just before shooting started in January when Barcelona fell to Franco and throughout the production when Édouard Daladier recognized Franco's Spain, Italy entered Albania and Adolf Hitler prepared his Polish invasion. Renoir articulated this unmentioned theme of the film by stating that "what is interesting about this film, perhaps, is the moment when it was made. It was shot between Munich and the war, and I shot it absolutely impressed, absolutely disturbed by the state of mind of a part of French society, a part of English society, a part of world society. And it seemed to me that a way of interpreting this state of mind, to the world hopefully, was not to talk of that situation, but tell a frivolous story. I looked for inspiration to Beaumarchais, to Marivaux, to the classical authors of comedy."
Renoir wanted to depict people as they truly were at that point in history and said that the film was "a reconstructed documentary, a documentary on the condition of a society at a given moment." He believed that this depiction was the reason behind the film's disastrous premiere, speculating that "the audience's reaction was due to my chandour." The Marriage of Figaro, an inspiration for the film, had also been considered controversial for its attack on the class system. The film remained controversial with the French public shortly after World War II when it was once again banned. Renoir's biographer Roland Bergan believed that the film hit a raw nerve with the public by depicting "people, who might have had an influence in shaping the world, [but] did nothing to prevent an advance of Fascism; some of whom, indeed, actually welcomed it."
The rabbit hunt scene is often compared to the senseless death that occurs during war and Renoir said that he wanted to show a certain class of people killing for no reason. Renoir himself had never killed an animal and called hunting "an abominable exercise in cruelty." Bergan wrote that "in the great set piece of the hunt, the callous cruelty of the guests is laid bare as they fire at any rabbit and bird that moves after the beaters have lead the game to slaughter. There was no need for Renoir to accentuate the analogy with world events."
The film's most often quoted line of dialogue, spoken by Octave, is "Everyone has his reasons." Renoir's sentiment of objective humanism for the film's characters is articulated by Octave's remark and shows his empathy for the people that he was simultaneously criticizing. Richard Roud praised Renoir's role in the film, saying that "it is as though he included himself through a kind of scrupulous honesty: he could not exempt himself from this portrait of society; he did not wish to stand outside. And Renoir/Octave serves as the standard against which reality and fiction can be measured." In his original outline for the film, Renoir said that he intended for all the characters to be sincere and that the film would have no villains. Renoir said that André was "the victim, who, trying to fit into a world in which he does not belong, fails to respect the rules of the game", and that André thought he could shatter the rules by a world flight, while Christine thought she could by following her heart. The "rules" of the film's title are its only villain. Renoir explained that "the world is made up of cliques…Each of these cliques has its customs, its mores, indeed, its own language. To put it simply, each has its rules, and these rules determine the game." Renoir believed that all human activity is "subject to social protocols that are less apparent than, but just as strict as, those practiced by Louis XIV." Renoir's son Alain Renoir believed that the film continues to be relevant and popular because it shows the "artificial joy" of the modern age in contrast to the rules of that (or any) age.
Filming Émile Zola's La Bête Humaine inspired Renoir to "make a break, and perhaps get away from naturalism completely, to try to touch on a more classical, more poetic genre." While shooting Renoir began listening to Baroque music by Louis Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Baptiste Lully and André Grétry. He later said "Little by little, my idea took shape and the subject got simpler. I kept living on baroque rhythms, and after a few more days, the subject became more and more precise." He added that he began imagining Simone Simon "moving to the spirit of the music." This preoccupation with baroque music during filming lead to Renoir's original idea of adapting Les Caprices de Marianne as a film.
The Rules of the Game is known for its early and elaborate use of deep focus cinematography. Renoir said that he and his cinematographer Jean Bachelet "ordered some special lenses, very fast lenses, but ones that still gave us considerable depth, so that we could keep our backgrounds in focus almost all the time." This depth of field in his shots allowed Renoir to shoot in large rooms and long corridors in the chateau sequences, with characters able to move freely between the background and the foreground. Approximately half of all of the shots in the film have camera movements. In many shots the camera moves, stops in place, changes direction and circles around the subjects. David Thomson said that "one has the impression of a camera that is always moving to cover as much as possible. One does not notice cuts, one delights in a continuity which is often on the verge of chaos and finally leads to tragedy in the intrusion of subplot into plot, of the theatrical into the real and of disaster into balances."
Overall Renoir used few close-ups or reverse shots and most of the shots are two shots. The hunt scene differs from the rest of the film due to its use of rapid editing, whereas most of the film includes long takes of dialogue or action. Renoir had wanted to shoot the film in color in order to take advantage of the beauty of Sologne in the winter, but was unable to secure funding from Jean Jay. One week before filming began Renoir attempted to persuade Technicolor to fund the color cinematography, but the company refused.
The sound in the film was also complex for its time and included dialogue being spoken over such ambient noises as the crowd at the airport and gunfire during the hunt. Film director Jean Prat said that the film's soundtrack was "of a perfection never equaled by any French film." Characters often talk all at once or over each other's lines. One examples of the dense soundtrack is the party scene which includes dialogue over screams, gunfire and music. With the exception of the opening credits and the very end of the film, all of the music heard in the film is incidental. Music used in the film includes Mozart's Three German Dances, Monsigny's Le déserteur, Louis Byrec, Léon Garnier and Eugène Rimbault's En revenant de la revue, Strauss's Die Fledermaus, Saint-Saëns's Danse macabre, Chopin's Minute Waltz and Scotto's À Barbizon. The music was arranged by Joseph Kosma and Roger Désormière.
The film's set designers Eugène Lourié and Max Douy built one of the most expensive sets in French film history at the Joinville Studio. According to Douy the sets were based on the script and were not a reproduction of the Chateau de la Ferté-Saint-Aubin, where exterior scenes were shot. The Marquis' music boxes used in the film were borrowed from several sources, and some are now in a museum in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Renoir thought that the musical organ scene and Dalio's performance in it was the best scene he had ever filmed. He shot the scene several times before he was satisfied with it.
Since the film's restoration, it has come to be seen by many film critics and directors as one of the greatest films of all time. The decennial poll of international critics by the Sight & Sound magazine ranked it #10 in 1952, moved it up to #3 in 1962, and #2 in 1972, 1982 and 1992; in 2002 it fell back to #3, behind Citizen Kane and Vertigo and in 2012, it dropped to #4, behind Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and Tokyo Story. It is the only film to have been included on every top ten list since 1952. Empire magazine put it at number 13 in its list of "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. In Le Figaro's 2008 list of the greatest films ever made it tied for second with The Night of the Hunter, behind Citizen Kane.
Critics and directors who have placed it on their lists include Nick Roddick, Richard Peña, Michel Ciment, David Denby, Lawrence Kasdan, Steve McQueen and Paul Schrader, who said that the film "has it all...[it] represents all that film can be." French film critic André Bazin praised the film's mobile photographic style, saying that its depth of field and deep focus mise-en-scène resembled that later seen in Citizen Kane and The Best Years of Our Lives.
Many contemporary film critics have written favorably about the film. David Thomson praised Renoir's performance, and remarked on "Renoir's admission that the director, supposedly the authoritative and manipulating figure, is as much victim as originator of circumstances." Penelope Gilliatt said the film was "not only a masterpiece of filmmaking, not only a great work of humanism in a perfect rococo frame, but also an act of historical testimony." Film scholar and Renoir biographer Leo Braudy thought that the film "embodies a social world in which there are rules but no values. If you don't know the rules, you are crushed; but if you do know the rules you are cut off from your own nature," while Dudley Andrews called the film "the most complex social criticism ever enacted on the screen." Amy Taubin said "I can think of no other film that is as unfailingly generous — to its audience, its characters, its actors, the milieu and the medium," and Luc Sante called the film "a dense clockwork mechanism." Critic Robin Wood said that the film "operates on all levels," and J. Hoberman remarked on its influence on Woody Allen, Robert Altman and Mike Leigh. Kenneth Browser called it the "humanity of film," Kent Jones called it a "masterpiece," and Peter Cowie said that the film has "humanity, warmth [and] generosity." German film critics Adolf Heinzlmeier and Berndt Schulz referred to it as "a masterpiece of narrative cinema." Roger Ebert said that the film was "so simple and so labyrinthine, so guileless and so angry, so innocent and so dangerous, that you can't simply watch it, you have to absorb it."
The film was especially appreciated by filmmakers and film critics associated with the French New Wave. André Bazin said that "as a conventional love story, the film could have been a success if the scenario had respected the rules of the movie game. But Renoir wanted to make his own style of drame gai, and the mixture of genres proved disconcerting to the public." Alain Resnais said that seeing the film was "the single most overwhelming experience I have ever had at the cinema." Louis Malle said that "for all of us, my generation of French filmmakers, La Regle du jeu was the absolute masterpiece." François Truffaut articulated the films enormous influence and said that "it isn't an accident that The Rules of the Game inspired a large number of young people who had first thought of expressing themselves as novelists to take up careers as filmmakers," and stated "It is the credo of movie lovers, the film of films, the film most hated when it was made and most appreciated afterwards, to the extent that it ultimately became a true commercial success."
Other filmmakers influenced by the film include Satyajit Ray, who called it "a film that doesn't wear its innovations on its sleeve...Humanist? Classical? Avant-Garde? Contemporary? I defy anyone to give it a label. This is the kind of innovation that appeals to me." Bernardo Bertolucci called the film a "supreme prophesy about the reality of that time;" Wim Wenders said that "rarely has there been a film so void of any prejudice whatsoever;" Peter Bogdanovich said of it that it is "still shocking;" and Noah Baumbach has praised the film's plot. Cameron Crowe said that The Rules of the Game is "so rich in detail, you get lost in it almost immediately," while Henri Cartier-Bresson, who worked on the film before beginning a long career as a photojournalist, called it "one of the summits of art and a premonition of everything that was to happen in the world." Robert Altman said that "The Rules of the Game taught me the rules of the game."
Altman's Gosford Park is similar to The Rules of the Game in many of its plot elements, including the relationship between wealthy people with their servants and the hunting sequence. Italian film critic Francis Vanoye has asserted that the film has influenced numerous other films that feature a group of character who spend a short amount of time together in a party or gathering – often while hunting animals – during which their true feelings about each other are revealed. Along with Gosford Park, these films include Jean Grémillon's Summer Light, Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night, Carlos Saura's The Hunt, Peter Fleischmann's Hunting Scenes From Bavaria, Nikita Mikhalkov's An Unfinished Piece for a Player Piano, Theo Angelopoulos'sThe Hunters and Denys Arcand's The Decline of the American Empire. It has also been compared to Paul Bartel's Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.
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