One of only two films I've seen by Renoir, the other being La Grand Illusion which I like but don't think it's his masterpiece. Just watched La Regle du jeu for the second time and loved it as much as the first (at least ten years ago), his masterpiece indeed.
I purchased this DVD using a top 50 films list from the BFI (British film institute). Previously I had never heard of it. I didn't fall in love with it, but I didn't hate it either. It seems to be one of those films that critics and film students have come to admire. I read about the film portraying a vision of French society just prior to World War 2. Personally, and it is only my opinion I will not be watching it again. My guess is the film has become part of the required watching for those undertaking courses in cinematography and social history.
La Règle du jeu has had a chequered history: poorly received by critics and public alike on its initial release in 1939, and subsequently banned by the French government for being unpatriotic and demoralising, it was subsequently re-established as a masterpiece by the New Wave. Within the film itself, the tone is equally erratic, or all-embracing, depending on one's view. Ostensibly about a house party for the rich in pre-World War 1 France, it veers between social observation, farce, and tragedy, and it is never quite clear how we are meant to regard the characters. Renoir famously said that everyone has their reasons, and this broad humanity is probably the guiding light of the film; nevertheless it is the portrait of a society in decay, class-ridden, which Renoir hated, and the romantic entanglements of the super-wealthy are both self-indulgent and quite affecting, viewed through this wide prism. On the technical side, Renoir's camera takes in scenes with many characters with aplomb, and the plotting is also remarkably tight, with about eight main characters who are each shown to have their private reasons. Nora Gregor as the Austrian Marquise de la Chesnaye, the hostess, is both beguiling and somehow lacking all sense of proportion, acting a bit like an 18-year-old; the actress brings it off well, as does Marcel Dalio as her slightly foppish but forbearing husband. Renoir himself has a key role, and Roland Toutain is dashing as the straight-as-a-die aviator. Below stairs the goings-on are equally dramatic, if not more so, with guns going off in a prolonged sequence of party mayhem. It reaches a pitch of hysteria which shows the handling of a master filmmaker, although the theatrical performance scenes have more charm and even cinematic magic in La Grande Illusion of two years before. Having said that, the Renoir character, Octave, prancing around in his bear suit, and then trying to find someone to help him out of it, helps keep things comic and slightly unhinged. An earlier scene of a hunt is also very long, but the attention shown to the rabbits and pheasants is one of the things that makes us question the whole escapade, as presumably we are meant to. The final act is full of surprises, and frankly dizzying, and it leaves you in a strange place, as it must. There cannot even be the guarded hope for a brighter day, privately at least, that one might read into La Grande Illusion, as there is the sense that irrevocable social change lies just around the corner.
I won't go on about it but I liked this film a lot. It is mostly a comedy about the social mores of the super rich, but it's a really well done piece of observation about different attitudes to adultery and love. I recommend it to anyone who likes well-made old films.