LA RÈGLE DU JEU (The Rules of the Game) directed by Jean Renoir (France, 1939)

Rules of the GameJean Renoir made over forty movies from the silent era to the talkies but I’m slightly ashamed to say that this is the first movie of his I’ve seen.

I was prompted to start plugging this huge gap in my movie knowledge by the fact that La Règle du Jeu  was voted number 4 in the latest BFI/Sight & Sound list of the greatest films of all time.

It’s always hard to evaluate movies that are so much of their age. For instance, it’s difficult to imagine why this combination of high farce and drama should have so offended the French audience when it was first shown.

The Parisians apparently derided it and the government banned it for being “demoralising” so it was only after the second world war that it started to be evaluated by a more open-minded public. It wasn’t until 1959 that it was restored and edited to the definitive  version.

Viewing it now, not as a historical document, but purely as a piece of entertainment, it has such a vitality, wit and charm that you can see why it is admired by directors like Francois Truffaut and Robert Altman.

Jean Renoir

Jean Renoir as Octave

The hunting scene, in particular, is a brilliantly choreographed piece of cinema and another kind of blood sport continues indoors at the grand home of the De La Cheyniest family.  The gamekeeper (Eduard Schumacher) and poacher turned servant do battle for the affections of maid, Listette, Schumacher’s wife.

This is just one of a number of romantic liaisons that occur upstairs and downstairs at the masquerade ball with even the buffoonish Octave,played by Renoir himself, getting in on the act at the end.

The portrayal of loose morals by a class who are supposed to be above such licentiousness is presumably why the movie caused offence although it looks rather tame and farcical now.

I don’t think this will ever end up on my list of greatest movies but it makes me curious to dip into more of Renoir’s filmography.