Review of the Criterion 2-disc DVD edition
keviny01 | 01/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"On the surface, THE RULES OF THE GAME is a frivolous satire of the French ruling class during the interwar years. But beneath it, this 1939 film is a rather sweeping appraisal on human nature and how the rigidity of our society continues to undermine our humanity. With a microcosmic cast of characters that comprises of masters and servants, the film weaves an intricate plot about their love, jealousies, deceit, infidelities, hypocrisies, misunderstandings, and, at times, reconciliations, and realignments of friends and foes. Through their travails, the film depicts a symbolic breakdown, and ultimately restoration, of the prevailing social order, resulting in the film being both a comedy and a tragedy. Director Jean Renoir also acts in the film, playing the pivotal role of an outsider (obviously a stand-in for the audience). His character's futile attempts to break into the "circle" and to bring about the well-beings of his friends suggest that it is often difficult to survive under the social order, let alone change it.The Criterion DVD is an all-region two-disc set with a newly restored video transfer and plenty of rewarding extra material. This eagerly-awaited disc was originally to be released last Fall, when Criterion had already finished a video transfer that would have looked better than any existing copy of the film. But at the last minute, Criterion received word that an earlier-generation fine-grain master of the film had been located in France, and that additional improvement, though not dramatic, could be made to the picture quality. Being the perfectionist that it often is, Criterion decided to redo the video transfer based on the fine-grain master, thus delaying the DVD's release by several months. According to the New York Times article "Hunting 'The Rules of the Game'" on Jan-18-04, the redone transfer justified the additional time and cost by yielding more details in dark areas and richer shades of grey on the picture, resulting in a less harsh look and perhaps subliminally making the characters in the film seem more sympathetic.The DVD's video quality is indeed the best I've ever seen. Its sharpness and clarity of details are a revelation to those who have seen, for instance, Criterion's laserdisc version years ago. A digital cleanup process has been used to eliminate much (but not all) of the dirt and blemishes. The original French audio track has also been improved, and it now sounds cleaner, with almost no hiss and pops, and more detailed. In a film that relies on its numerous visual and audio details to be effective, the technical improvements made for this DVD are absolutely worthwhile and welcomed.Accompanying the film is a superb analytical audio commentary written by film historian and Renoir's friend Alexander Sesonske, and read fluidly by Peter Bogdanovich. Recorded in 1989 for the Criterion laserdisc, this commentary analyzes the intricate relationships of the characters, how their actions often counterpoint one another's, and what Renoir intends to accomplish with them. It points out that the story creates two groups of quintets, each comprising of a husband, wife, lover, mistress, and interceding friend, and that the actions in one group are often the opposites of the other. The commentary also mentions the political climate in which Renoir made the film, as well as the classical works (such as The Marriage of Figaro) that inspired Renoir.A 30-minute excerpt of the 1967 TV documentary "Jean Renoir, le patron", originally included in the laserdisc version, is also included in this DVD. It is essentially an interview of Renoir, who talks about his shooting style, and the themes and characters of the film. There is also a rather poignant moment of Renoir reuniting with actor Marcel Dalio at the steps of the "La Colinière," where they reminisce about their experience.The DVD includes a great one-hour documentary on Renoir and RULES OF THE GAME, made by BBC in 1993. It recalls Renoir's childhood, upbringing, how his love of the movies developed, and his film career up to and including RULES OF THE GAME. It shows fascinating clips of his early films such as LA FILLE DE L'EAU, CHARLESTON, NANA, LA CHIENNE, BONDU SAVED FROM DROWNING, and others. It also includes comments from his family members, friends, collaborators, and other filmmakers such as Bertrand Tavernier, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Peter Bogdanovich.Perhaps the best supplement in the whole DVD set is a "Version Comparison" that provides side-by-side comparison of the final scenes in two versions of the film: the shorter 81-minute cut which Renoir reluctantly made in response to criticisms, and the longer 106-minute version that was reconstructed in 1959 (the version used for this DVD's presentation). Film historian Christopher Faulkner's commentary provides further elucidation on the differences between the two. Thus, we can plainly see for ourselves that the shorter version drastically eliminates many of the subtleties and alters the meaning of the film's final moments completely.Also valuable is a 10-minute interview footage of the two people who reconstructed the 1959 version, Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand. They recall their multi-year efforts in finding film elements from all over the world, and eventually discovering several minutes of footage that was not in Renoir's original version (one of such footage is the long conversation between Octave and André at the knoll in the countryside).Other extras include an 8-minute "video essay" (a featurette) on the film's production history, 3 interview segments, and several written tributes by today's filmmakers, which include a few pretty thoughtful mini-essays on the film as well as succinct comments such as that from Robert Altman: "THE RULES OF THE GAME taught me the rules of the game.""
The DVD of the Year.
K. Garner | the midwest | 01/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"On its surface, "The Rules of the Game" is a light farce involving the couplings - and decouplings - of an assortment of weekend guests staying at the chateau of the Comte de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio). Without knowing any other context, the film can be enjoyed on this level: Renoir's writing (he co-scripted) is witty and his direction is elegant and sublime. His fluid long-shots make you feel like you're gliding along in this rarified - though topsy-turvy - world; and his open approach to the actors is suffused with generosity. He never allows us to focus on one particular person, or couple, because, in this social world, "everyone has their reasons" and everyone's actions bounce and intertwine with everyone else's. As a homage and updating of a classic French farce, "Rules" is flawless; it is, however, as a commentary on the decline of a social order that makes this more than a cinematic souffle. Shot in 1939, "between Munich and the War" as Renoir says, the film is portrait of the European aristocracy where ethical codes (conjugal fidelity above all) are not only violated, but are even dismissed as irrelevant. Human relationships collapse and reform with sudden ease (witness the gameskeeper and the poacher) and those who cling to outmoded notions of love and faithfulness set themselves up for disaster (such as the aviator). This is the domestic complement to Renoir's war drama, "La Grande Illusion", where the mournful French and German artistocratic officers, having more in common amongst themselves than with the common soldiers of their respective nationalities, lament that mechanized warfare has rendered their class irrelevant. Both "Illusion" and "Rules" may seem irrelevant themselves in the US, which did not have a traditional feudal aristocracy. Yet both films fascinate by showing individuals attempting to survive, and thrive, in worlds where the old, comfortable standards no longer apply. If the aristocrats in "Rules" openly, and rather disinterestedly, conduct affairs with each others' spouses, why shouldn't a humble poacher poach a gameskeeper's wife too? If "everyone has their reasons", the famous quote from the film, then, who's to decide which "reasons" are justified or unjust, legitimate or scandalous? The Criterion double-disc sets its own standards. The extras are plentiful and fascinating, including interviews from the few remaining cast and crew members, the essay booklet intelligent and penetrating, and the transfer quality of the film is superb considering the film's history (having been cut at its premiere, banned, its original negative destroyed in WWII, and finally reassembled in the late 1950's). This disc was clearly a labor of love and the effort shows throughout: this disc is worth Criterion's asking price."
The exquisite decline and fall of Old World Europe...
The Sentinel | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 10/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jean Renoir's THE RULES OF THE GAME takes place on the eve of World War II at an aristocratic house party in an opulent chateau just outside of Paris where the overlapping `affaires d'amour' of all social classes are observed with a keen and compassionate eye. Renoir looks to the eighteenth-century world of Commedia dell'Arte and Mozartian opera, and seamlessly integrates farce with tragedy, using a classical form to offer his audience a profound and multifaceted parable on the disturbing realities that underlie the veneer of contemporary French society. It is the middle-class aviator, André Jurieu (Roland Toutain), who embodies the film's central conflict between the private passions and a sense of obligation to a larger social body. Right at the outset of the film, he violates the unwritten "rules" of social propriety by declaring to a radio reporter his disappointment that the woman he had been courting, Christine de la Chesnaye (Nora Grégor), is not present at his reception after completing a record-breaking flight across the Atlantic. His skill with the advanced technology of aircraft is not matched by an ability to deal with people, particularly in matters of love. Indeed, André's careless and unmediated show of desire for a highborn lady not only transgresses the received law of proper social conduct but of traditional class distinctions as well. Other characters also entertain desires that come into conflict with the social order. The Marquis, Robert de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio), is having a fling with Geneviève de Marrast (Mila Parély) behind Christine's back, and Geneviève is sincerely attached to him and wants for them to go away together yet he maintains the proper outward appearance, and out of politeness and consideration for his wife's feelings, keeps up the charade that their affair is a secret in spite of the fact that "everybody knows." Christine observes her husband's liaison with strange amusement, commenting that they look "very interesting" together - for her adultery is a form of entertaining spectacle. But even Robert loses his cool at one point when he discovers Christine and André together in the gunroom and punches the aviator in the face. Strangely enough, it is only the classless Pandarus-figure, Octave, who can get through to the serenely unattainable Christine because he seems to have no particular desires of his own; he only concerns himself with regulating the desires of others. Octave confesses that, like Marcello Mastrioanni in Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA, he is "a failure" who merely pleases his friends so that he may live off their wealth like "a parasite." Apparently, Christine loves him for his understanding that everything in life, every social relationship, is really a lie of some sort, and that all desire and romantic fantasy is, at bottom, a blind form of narcissistic self-deception. It seems that the two of them have come to understand the law that underpins desire - "La Règle de Jeu" - all too well. As Pauline Kael has pointed out, Renoir may have conceived Robert de la Chesnaye as a composite of two different characters in GRAND ILLUSION: Marcel Dalio's rich young mercantile Jew, Rosenthal, and the generous, self-sacrificing French nobleman, De Boeldieu, played by Pierre Fresnay. Here, the director appears to equate the waning aristocracy of Old World Europe with the imminent fate of the European Jewish community in the wake of rising nationalism, militarism, and xenophobia. When a chef makes an anti-Semitic slight against the Robert, revealing the bigotry of the French working classes, it evokes the controversy surrounding the Dreyfus Affair. By the same token, the General's final comment that Robert is one of a "dying breed" not only heralds the decay of aristocratic privilege but, from the vantage point of hindsight, also seems a chilling spectre of Nazi racialist ideology and the Final Solution. Christine's Austrian origin alludes to the looming war with Germany and seems a prediction of France's collaboration under the Vichy régime. Likewise, the reference to Schumacher's home of Alsace-Lorraine, the highly contested land ceded to the Germans at the end of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 and then returned to France with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, highlights an old geopolitical conflict between the two countries. The indiscriminate destruction of life in the rabbit and pheasant hunt sequence forecasts the waste and destruction of the war to come. Renoir's approach to mise-en-scène is especially groundbreaking. He employs seamless cutting as well as long continuous takes and tracking shots which follow the characters as they move from one space to the next in a manner that anticipates the graceful circling, panning, sensuously kinetic camera of Welles, Ophüls, Godard, Resnais, Bertolucci and others. He uses deep-focus compositions, avoiding close-ups by putting many actors in the frame at the same time to suggest multiple viewpoints. The balustrades of La Colinière and the languorous tracking shots down the long corridors undoubtedly inspired those in LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD while the checkered floor suggests a harlequinade and a chess board upon which the characters maneuver themselves in relation to each other - like the similarly checkered shuffleboard floor in Antonioni's LA NOTTE or the geometrically precise arrangement of the garden in MARIENBAD. (Interestingly enough, Coco Chanel designed the costumes for both THE RULES OF THE GAME and LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD). Octave's gorilla suit at the party implies a regression of human behavior to a more primitive state, setting up a conflict between barbarism and civilized life, between the savage realities of human desire and the law of the social contract that contains them as theatrical spectacle. The Shakespearean convention of "the play within the play" appears - just as it does in THE GOLDEN COACH - in various forms throughout the film, the most ominous being the `danse macabre,' echoed in the séance and ritual journey to the realm of the dead in LA DOLCE VITA, suggesting that Renoir's superficial `affaires d'amour' are really a dance of death heralding the apocalyptic destruction of the old Europe."
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 01/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"No history of cinema would be complete without "The Rules of the Game" (1939). Director Jean Renoir's brilliant, perceptive study of a dying French aristocracy remains among the finest examples of visual poetry captured on film - as evidenced in the savage "rabbit hunt" and the haunting final shot. Along with "Grand Illusion" (1937), "The Rules of the Game" represents the high-water mark of Renoir's career. It's as close to perfection as a film can get."