Written by: Jean Renoir & Carl Koch
Starring: Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost, Mila Parély, Marcel Dalio, Julien Carette, Roland Toutain
Not all parties are created equal as much of quality hinges on the amenities available, but most importantly, the individual present. The Rules of the Game puts on quite the party and the messiness involved definitely makes for a fascinating watch. You came for the mess and stay for the slick filmmaking and hilarious commentary of the societal and relational structures up for some well-needed skewering.
After completing the gargantuan feat of flying across the Atlantic Ocean, André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) arrives and sees the love of his life, Christine (Nora Gregor) not there waiting for him. Having the adoration of the whole country instead of hers leaves him distraught. He then gets the opportunity to attend a luxurious soiree hosted by Christine and her husband but he has no idea what he and the other attendees have in store for them.
Films poking fun at the rich and the way navigate within their circles have become all of the rage in recent years. The transparency in their ridiculous behavior has allowed for plenty of material to exist to mock them, but one of the earliest and most successful of this genre all started with this wonderful feature crafted by the legendary Jean Renoir. One filled with so much absurdity in a hilarious manner making for something with plenty of staying power for nearly 100 years at this point. We receive entry into this world and can gawk at what we see and the little shame existent here.
With the many players involved in this feature, one could find themselves a bit confused by who loves who and where they stand on the social ladder. That can certainly be attributed to the characters and the unmitigated gall they act with. You have a man in André, deemed as a national hero for his conquest, who shares with the public his disappointment of Christine not being at the airport to greet him knowing very much she’s married to a very powerful man in Robert (Marcel Dalio), Marquis de la Chesnaye. Then you have Robert having an affair with Geneviève (Mila Parély) and invites her to this soiree. Somehow André receives an invitation through some sly manipulation and you have the recipe for some fireworks and we receive just that.
Everything prior to the house serves as setting the table and once the party begins and everyone finds themselves on Robert’s estate, everything goes haywire, hearts get broken, and social stances become strident. This messiness works not just with the upper-class individuals like Robert, André, and Christine but also with the working-class individuals like Christine’s maid, Lisette (Paulette Dubost), her husband the gamekeeper Edouard (Gaston Modot), and a poacher who finds his way on the staff named Marceau (Julien Carette). This messiness operates on all levels and the way they call clash against each other makes for something wholly entertaining where you find yourself questioning the actions and motives of everyone here and how it seemingly switches on a dime.
This ingrained vapidness falls right in line with the messaging of the feature and what Jean Renoir wants to communicate about these individuals. They operate with impunity and the impact their actions have on others. The film certainly comments on the gender dynamics on display here but all of these characters fall into a similar umbrella with their nonchalance. Again, the gall for Robert to invite his mistress and Christine being fine having André provides enough for one to scratch their head vigorously but when things become fiery, all of it comes out to something quite dangerous for all involved in more than just the emotional. The very conclusion of the feature punctuates it all well where we witness some eye-opening behavior and seeing how it gets brushed off truly puts the cherry on top for what this feature does thematically.
With the many plotlines, character motivations, and emotions running rampant in this feature, Renoir does a spectacular job of keeping everything coherent. Sure, these characters make some asinine decisions but it makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Running into hidden rooms, talking in whispers, and sharing scandalous touches, the pacing of this feature carries some electricity. It stands as a tremendous balancing act where we move from space to space and have different conversations as these characters make their questionable decisions and embark on some salacious behavior. None of it loses momentum as it all plays out in such an invigorating style to display the lunacy going on. I mean, you have a scene with a character following the other shooting at them along with other conversations happening at the same time. Talk about doing everything at once but the feature never loses its coherence and connectedness to the themes and plot as a whole.
Nearing 100 years since its release, The Rules of the Game has not lost its bite in the slightest in the digs it seeks to take on the bourgeois class and the way they operate. With this party, we have many different varying individuals all having the hots for someone else and the ammunition to do something about it. Jean Renoir delivers a masterclass in storytelling in how he manages to juggle it all while never losing its coherence and biting satire as a whole. A delicious meal of a film and one where we can come back in 200 years and it will probably still feel just as relevant and playful.