The Rules of the Game

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The Rules of the Game
La regle du jeu.jpg
original film poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Produced by Claude Renoir
Written by Jean Renoir
Carl Koch
Starring Nora Gregor
Paulette Dubost
Marcel Dalio
Jean Renoir
Julien Carette
Music by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (opening)
Cinematography Jean-Paul Alphen
Jean Bachelet
Editing by Marthe Huguet
Marguerite Renoir
Distributed by Janus Films (UK & US)
Release dates
  • 8 July 1939 (1939-07-08)
Running time 106 minutes
Country France
Language French
Budget FRF 5,500,500

The Rules of the Game (original French title: La Règle du jeu) is a 1939 French film directed by Jean Renoir about upper-class French society just before the start of World War II. He originally adapted the story from Alfred de Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne, a popular 19th-century comedy of manners: "My first intention was to film a transposition of Caprices de Marianne to our time. It is the story of a tragic mistake: the lover of Marianne is taken for someone else and is bumped off in an ambush".[1] He was also inspired by Jeu de l'amour et du hasard of Marivaux, and by Molière, while taking some details from Beaumarchais. The quotation at the beginning of the film comes from Le Mariage de Figaro[2]

The Rules of the Game is often cited as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema. The decennial poll of international critics by the Sight & Sound magazine ranked it #10 in 1952,[3] moved it up to #3 in 1962,[4] and #2 in 1972,[5] 1982,[6] and 1992;[7] in 2002 it fell back to #3, behind Citizen Kane and Vertigo[8] and in 2012, it dropped to #4, behind Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and Tokyo Story.[9]


The film begins with the aviator André Jurieux landing at Le Bourget Airfield just outside Paris. He is greeted by his friend Octave, who reveals that Christine, 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. Christine has been married to Robert, Marquis de la Cheyniest for three years. Lisette has been married to Schumacher, 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, 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, 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".



After completing the film La Bête Humaine (1938), Renoir wanted to get away from naturalism and work in a more classical and poetic style. To get ideas and inspirations for The Rules of the Game he read the works of Pierre de Marivaux and Alfred de Musset. Although he had no intention of following their style, reading their work helped Renoir to find his own, somewhat halfway between realism and poetry.[10]

Initial release and reception[edit]

The film was initially condemned for its satire on the French upper classes and was greeted with derision by a Parisian crowd on its première. The upper class is depicted in this film as capricious and self-indulgent, with little regard for the consequences of their actions. The French government banned it.[11] In the 1943 edition of his famous Histoire du cinéma, Robert Brasillach wrote that the film was amongst Renoir's most jumbled and confused but applauded the biting satire, which he considered Proustian, and the technical variation employed by the director, ultimately concluding that the film was an unrealised masterpiece.[12]

Renoir was deeply hurt by the initial reception. The French and the Vichy governments banned the film for being "demoralising", and it was removed from every cinema in Paris. After the outraged audience response, distributors demanded that Renoir cut the film drastically. He edited it from 94 minutes to 81 soon after its première. He reduced the role of Octave, which he played, including Octave's brief infatuation with Christine during the ending. The omission of this complication during the ending gave rise to the notion of a "second ending". Roger Manvell's authoritative Film[13] refers to a first London showing in 1946.

Later history and reputation[edit]

During one of the Allied bombings of World War II, the original negative was destroyed, leading many to believe that a complete version would never be seen again. After the war though, pieces of the negative were found, and the painstaking task of reassembling the film was undertaken. The film was restored to 106 minutes in 1959 with Renoir's approval and advice. Only one scene was not located, one of Lisette talking about affairs among the maid staff, but this was a short scene and, according to Renoir, not vital to the plot. Renoir dedicated the revival of The Rules of the Game to the film theorist André Bazin.

Since the first restoration, it has come to be seen by many film critics and directors as one of the greatest films of all time.[14] Critics placing it at the top of their lists include Nick Roddick,[15] Paul Schrader,[16] and Bertrand Tavernier.[17] Also, filmmaker Wim Wenders has cited it as the film that got him started as a filmmaker. The film's mobile photographic style, with a depth of field and deep focus mise-en-scène, resembled that later seen in Citizen Kane and The Best Years of Our Lives. The Rules of the Game has become regarded as a classic of prewar French realism, showcasing an advancement of cinematography.[18] Empire magazine put it at number 13 in its list of "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[19]


The Rules of the Game is noted for its use of deep focus so that events going on in the background are as important as those in the foreground. In a 1954 interview with Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut, reprinted in Jean Renoir: Interviews, Renoir said "Working on the script inspired me to make a break and perhaps get away from naturalism completely, to try to touch on a more classical, more poetic genre." He wrote and rewrote it several times, often abandoning his original intentions altogether upon interaction with the actors having witnessed reactions that he hadn't foreseen. As a director he sought to "get closer to the way in which characters can adapt to their theories in real life while being subjected to life’s many obstacles that keep us from being theoretical and from remaining theoretical".[citation needed]

The film's style has had an impact on numerous filmmakers. One example is Robert Altman, whose Gosford Park copies many of Rules of the Game's plot elements (a story of aristocrats in the country, aristocrats and their servants, murder) and pays homage with a direct reference to the infamous hunting scene, or "la chasse", in which no one moves but the help.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Jean Renoir, Ma vie et mes films, éd. Flammarion, 1974
  2. ^ "Cœurs sensibles, cœurs fidèles,
    Qui blâmez l'amour léger,
    Cessez vos plaintes cruelles :
    Est-ce un crime de changer ?
    Si l'Amour porte des ailes,
    N'est-ce pas pour voltiger ?
    N'est-ce pas pour voltiger ?
    N'est-ce pas pour voltiger ? " Le Mariage de Figaro, IV, 10.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Jean Renoir: interviews – Jean Renoir, Bert Cardullo – Google Boeken. Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  11. ^ John Kobal John Kobal Presents the Top 100 Films, New York: New American Library, 1988, p. 11. "The chauvinistic French public hated the thought of French aristocrats with Jewish parents and German wives. ... Attempts were made to burn down the cinema where it was screened, and it was finally banned. The Nazis maintained the ban."
  12. ^ Maurice Bardèche and Robert Brasillach, Histoire du cinéma, Pairs: Editions Robert Denoel, 1943 at p. 347
  13. ^ Pelican Books, 1944, 1950 revision, p.  208
  14. ^ Kobal, 1988, pp. 10–11. Kobal's list, culled from lists by more than eighty critics, places this film at No. 2, after Citizen Kane.
  15. ^ Kobal, 1988, p. 141
  16. ^ Paul Schrader, "Canon Fodder" Film Comment Sept./Oct. 2006: 14
  17. ^ Kobal, 1988, p. 143
  18. ^ André Bazin, 1971, Jean Renoir, p. 73
  19. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema". Empire. 

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