As you might have noticed if you’re a movie buff, people put a lot of stock in the Sight and Sound best films lists that happen every decade. One of those pictures in particular has been in the top ten of the lists since their inception, only slipping into the top twenty last year, which has to be a recommendation, right? The film in question is Jean Renoir’s 1939 satire La règle du jeu – The Rules of the Game.
La règle du jeu takes place on the eve of the Second World War, as aviator André Jurieux lands in Paris after crossing the Atlantic ocean in his plane. However, André is upset, as his lover Christine, who he made the flight for, is not there to meet him.
As it happens, she’s with her husband Robert, who is trying to break off his affair with his mistress Genevieve. André and Christine’s mutual friend Octave engineers an invite for André to attend a retreat at Robert’s house in the country; Robert invites Genevieve, and this sets up a memorable weekend with hunting of different kinds, especially with new employee Marceau, who is in love with Christine’s maid Lisette, whose trigger happy husband Schumacher is the gamekeeper of the estate.
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Renoir’s film lives up to its reputation spectacularly. Everything seems so perfectly precise, in its acting, its dialogue, and particularly its direction which is often wonderfully innovative and adds another layer of depth to the film. It’s hilarious to see André and another suitor of Christine’s having fisticuffs up a flight of stairs like Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood, while Schumacher chases Marceau all over the place like hide and seek, only with a loaded revolver.
Renoir places his characters like they’re on a chess board, and the joy is seeing which are pawns and which are kings and queens. The film not only explores the different relationships between guests but also looks at the difference in classes, with the guests and the Marquis on one level and the workers in the house on the other, with their behaviour ours to judge only. That this behaviour is all taking place just before the world is attacked by Hitler is another thing, and is another ingredient in what is a biting critique of high society.
The British Film Institute presents La règle du jeu in a new Blu-ray encode from a 4K scan undertaken by La Cinémathèque Française and Les Grands Films Classiques and it looks and sounds wonderful, especially in the way it represents Jean Bachelet’s deep and emotive cinematography.
Also included are a fine set of thoughtful extras, including a new commentary by film writers David Jenkins and Trevor Johnston, a featurette where Jean Douchet and Pierre Oscar Lévy analyse the film, an introduction of the film at the BFI Southbank by actor Leslie Caron, and La Vie est à nous, a 1936 propaganda film by the French Communist Party which was co-directed by Renoir.
La règle du jeu is a perfect film, hilariously biting and a joy to watch. The BFI has given it a terrific presentation, both with audio/video and supplemental features, which makes this an essential purchase.
La règle du jeu is out now on Blu-ray from the British Film Institute.