The logical place to start? Of course it's the only film to have appeared on every Sight & Sound Top 10 list since the 1952 original, now that Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) has fallen to #11 in 2012...
The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu)
dir. Jean Renoir. 1939, France.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #4 / Directors' #22
Roger Ebert's Great Movies ... Criterion essay
DVD/Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection
Watch via Hulu-Plus / Amazon Instant / iTunes
The Rules of the Game trailer (2007 re-release)
My own personal history kind of explains why we're doing this. I got the Criterion dvd several years back, watched the movie once or twice around that time, enjoyed it... but have never gone back. So this is that chance to revisit films that I need to, or to finally watch those that I've always meant to, or to put down an official statement on ones that I am familiar enough with...
Despised by the French!
What more could you want?
Cheyniest: Corneille! Put an end to this farce!
Le majordome: Which one, your lordship?
Standing in for Citizen Kane (1941)... I won't be watching either of the big-ticket films duking it out at the top of the S&S poll. So this might be the place to mention two interrelated technical points about The Rules of the Game: the deep-focus cinematography (two years before Kane) and the dense ensemble action (30 years before Altman). These two techniques spiral into a frenzy during the climactic party towards the dénouement, at which the upper-class twits can't even distinguish dangerous reality from entertainment provided solely for their amusement.
The famous hunting scene (carnage!) at the center of the movie has been interpreted multiple ways - foreshadowing violence within the film and across Europe. But what it made me think of was how many animals there were, flushed out and running around being shot. Maybe it could also be a metaphor for the extended cast being herded onto sets, and the crew that was "shooting" them? (I’m claiming that one as original.) I consider myself a pretty accomplished subtitle reader, but the combination of rapid-fire dialogue and much onscreen action strained my abilities. I really owe it to myself to become more comfortable with the movie, because I think there's plenty more to be absorbed and enjoyed.
But there was already so much enjoyed! The hilarious old coot (Le général), with terrific banter about not writing memoirs and accidental suicide. The local game poacher who gets hired alongside his arch-nemesis, then immediately starts poaching his wife! The sassy maidservant, a sad clown, the worst-driving star pilot in history... And I'm always up for a savage takedown of the aristocracy, as well as some timeless pre-PC ethnic observations.
The host is cool and detached throughout - dealing with his wife, mistress, rival, guests and employees. He'll take a shine to a no-good poacher, fire a trusted servant (for what?!), then forget it all when an "accident" suits his aims. Only his wind-up contraptions really trigger any passion - and like Octave in a bear suit, that seems to come with a strong hint of kink. Almost everyone seems like a painfully insipid nitwit - but fun ("It's not bridge, it's belote!")... or else a hollowed-out shell of a human - but suave.
Toujours le suave.