The Rules of the Game, directed by Jean Renoir, is the first of the BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time that feels modern. Unlike the prior films which seemed to be in the process of discovering what film language is, The Rules of the Game feels comfortable in its own skin. The film is a wonderful mix of high and low comedy offset with moments of melodrama, chaos and violence.
The Rules of the Game tells two parallel stories: that of a group of wealthy friends and that of their servants. Both plot lines focus partly on married women fighting off the advances of persistent suitors, with varying degrees of effort and success. Jealousy rears its ugly head leading to both comedy and tragedy.
The production is a big step up from L’Atalante. It’s hard to believe only five years separate the two films. The Rules of the Game is a far cry from the grandiose productions of The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind, to name a couple of contemporary Hollywood films, but by 1939, movies had certainly entered a new era.
The Rules of the Game is brilliant in many ways: the intricate plot (structured not unlike a Shakespearian comedy), the fascinating characters and acting, amazing direction and camerawork. Because of its satirical approach to the French upperclass, the film was initially banned and then the original print was burned. In the 1950’s, it was restored from other existing prints and recognized as a masterpiece.
I foresee this remaining high on my list. Not sure if I’m ready to displace Metropolis as my number one film yet but The Rules of the Game is the only film so far where I’ve considered it.
My ratings so far:
- Metropolis (1927)
- The Rules of the Game (1939)
- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
- City Lights (1931)
- The General (1926)
- The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
- L’Atalante (1934)
- Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Next Up: Citizen Kane