Somehow I have ended up watching a lot of French movies lately. It was not really my intention, it just happened so. Seeing a lot of them makes me attuned in a way that probably makes me like them better than I otherwise would. “La Regle du Jeu” is a movie that I might not have liked as much if I had not been warmed up by those other movies. This one is different however. More modern if you like. I have seen later movies played out over the same theme, but not earlier and the chaotic meandering style seems rather novel for 1939.
True to form Renoir made a political film to expose the pointless and irresponsible life of the aristocracy in France in the late thirties. Where he aims at the middle class in “Boudu saved from drowning” he now goes for the super-rich. The idea is that you bring a bunch of idle rich people together and then we see how stupid they are and we can feel good about ourselves.
Well, this is the analysis I read. My own impression is a little different. We are introduced to a number of people who are all somehow involved with someone else and usually not their official partner. In fact their relationships are so confusing and complicated that only an hour into the movie did I have a reasonable idea of how they are all connected. This part is a bit on the boring side and frankly I am not really into movies about complicated relations. But then they all get together for a big party at La Coliniere, the Chateau of Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest. The movie now takes a turn and explodes in a hilarious disaster zone as all these relations run crazy while the party carries on around them as if nothing had happened, in a way not too different from “Festen”. The culmination is Schumacher, the gamekeeper, hunting down the waiter, former poacher, Marceau with a gun shooting at will among the dancing guests, because Marceau is making out with Schumacher’s frivolous wife. And Christine who in short order gets to declare her love for three different men. This totally changed the movie for me. Instead of being a half boring relationship move this became top class comedy. “The Party”, but with style.
I am not so sure this is as much an exposé of the rich class as a display of a lot of people with serious chaos in their love lives. It seems to me that Renoir is building up all these classy people only to let them meltdown into chaos.
It is curious how childish all these wealthy and important people act. Of course there is a party going on, but they really seem disconnected from any normal life and conventions as if all that is important in their life is their frivolous love lives and snatching each other’s wives and husbands. Lisette, the maid of Christine strongly prefers this life to the ordinary monogamous life with her husband Schumacher. André, the airman, has just broken a new record crossing the Atlantic, yet all he can think of is Christine and the fact she is not there to receive him, disregarding that she is after all married to some other guy. Octave, André’s and Christine’s friend is also in love with Christine and even though he is bringing them together he almost runs away with Christine. Marceau, the poacher who finally became a waiter, the job of his dreams, immediately starts hunting girls (Lisette) and ends up forfeiting his job on that account. And the Marquis himself, he takes it all in stride while he is having a mistress of his own.
Renoir is appearing as Octave and he is doing it quite will. It is more than a simple cameo as Octave is one of the central characters. I am not so familiar with the other actors, but while the setting is crazy the character are very convincing. You actually get to believe that this is the life of the rich and famous. And well, if we are to trust the tabloids it is not so far from the truth.
I read that “La Regle du Jeu” is considered one of the best movies ever, up there with “Citizen Kane” and “Vertigo”. I do not know if I would go that far, but it is certainly entertaining once we get past the first half hour.