La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939)

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Released 5-Sep-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-Image Par Image
Trailer-Wages Of Fear, Obsessione, I Vitelloni, the Bicycle Thief
Introduction-To The Film By Jean Renoir
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1939
Running Time 102
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Jean Renoir
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Nora Gregor
Paulette Dubost
Mila Parély
Odette Talazac
Claire Gérard
Anne Mayen
Lise Elina
Marcel Dalio
Julien Carette
Roland Toutain
Gaston Modot
Jean Renoir
Pierre Magnier
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Frédéric Chopin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   

This divertissement, set on the eve of the war in 1939 lays no claim to being a social study.
The characters it presents are purely imaginary.

(Title card placed on the film after a disastrous season)

    In 1939 Director Jean Renoir (son of the famous impressionist painter) presented his latest film to a French public on the brink of war. Instead of the cementing his success as a genius film maker on the rise, the film was met with derision and outrage. In his introduction to the film he describes it as clearly the biggest failure of his career.

    Yet The Rules of the Game is regarded by many as one of the greatest films of all time. Although Renoir claims that he had no intention to shock the bourgeois with his film, he somewhat blithely describes his screenwriting approach as combining the comic trifle of Musset's play,The Moods of Marianne, with his own view of French society as "rotten to the core."

    After a disastrous premiere, in which one audience member tried to burn down the cinema, Renoir retreated to the editing room and produced a heavily cut version of the film featuring the preface above. It was still not a success and the original negative for the film was destroyed during World War II. Although never popular with the public, the film had bred support from critics around the world who held it up as a masterpiece. It is through the actions of some film lovers that The Rules of the Game was restored to its almost original form (Renoir speaks of a minor moment in the original which could not be found) and the film finally comes to DVD in Region 4 for cinema lovers to appreciate.

    The Rules of the Game uses the template of the romantic farce as the basis for a much deeper examination of French society. The plot is both simple and complex. It is 1939. Heroic aviator André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) has just landed after completing a solo flight across the Atlantic. Interviewed by the media after the flight he declares it a miserable failure as the woman who inspired him to make the journey, Christine de la Cheyniest (Nora Grégor), is not there to meet him. He is consoled by his friend Octave (Jean Renoir himself) but to no avail.

    Christine has not gone to the airport as she is a married woman and insists that Jurieux has merely misinterpreted her friendship as love. She is relieved when her husband, the wealthy Robert de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio), accepts that Jurieux's affection is misplaced and knows that his wife is honest and faithful. As well he might, for Robert is engaged in an affair with Geneviève de Marras (Mila Parèly). Christine, who is Austrian and therefore an outsider to French high society, seems unable to understand philandering. She tries to get some insight from her maid Lisette (Paulette Dubost), who seems a reliable expert. Lisette is married to Edouard Schumacher (Gaston Mardot), a game keeper at Robert's country estate. She likes the fact that she is married but that her husband is in the country leaving her time to spend with her admirers in the city of Paris.

    Robert decides to visit the country estate. Christine and Lisette travel with him as well as their friend, though not class equal, Octave. Touched by Christine's innocence Robert now determines to break off his affair with Geneviève and invites her to the estate as well. Through Octave's pleading Robert also allows Jurieux to come to the estate so that Christine can put his feelings to rest. Into this mix comes one more major character, Marceau (Julien Carette), a poacher on the estate. After being caught by Schumacher poaching rabbits, Robert promptly offers him a job and he makes an immediate attempt to seduce Lisette under the nose (and sometimes right in front of the nose) of Schumacher.

    Over the course of the weekend the party engage in a hunt as well as a theatrical performance. The lovers via for each other's affection until tragedy rocks them to their core. In fact, it should have this effect but in the world Renoir depicts The Rules of the Game come into play and the tragedy is papered over with only the briefest of reflection.

    It seems almost quaint that The Rules of the Game could have incited such wrath upon its release. It is not an overtly political work, however it does make out both the French ruling classes and the peasantry as shallow and vacuous. In the shadow of the Second World War it must have seemed to viewers that Renoir really did see their society as empty of any heart and soul.

    The film is justly famous for more than its controversy. Renoir pioneered deep focus photography with the film, which enabled both the foreground and background of the shot to be in clear focus. Therefore, in many scenes we are able to appreciate what the character is doing close to the camera and also what is going on amongst the other characters at the rear. Each story assumes some importance and Renoir's virtuoso direction is never more apparent than in the chase scene late in the film where several stories take place in the same frame.

    If the description of the plot above makes it seem like Renoir has just thrown a bunch of characters together, then this was probably his intention. The Rules of the Game is interesting in that it does not have any real protagonist. Each of the characters plays some part in the film but none of them exactly engages our sympathy. They are destructive without meaning to be. Renoir himself describes them as simple characters with simple intentions who carry those intentions through their natural course. Most tellingly, he says that for all their faults none of his characters is wearing a mask.

    There are a few scenes which stand out and are revered by cinefiles. One is the legendary hunt scene where the party gets together and despatches a large number of unfortunate animals. At a time when Hitler had began his move across Europe, this scene is a potent omen of the slaughter to come and a harsh reminder of the trench warfare less than 20 years earlier. In one moment where a shot rabbit twitches and stiffens in its death throes, Renoir reminds the audience that the rich play their games whilst the poor rabbits of society are in the firing line.

    In another famous scene Robert, who is a collector of mechanical entertainment devices, displays his latest and greatest acquisition - a garish carnival organ. Renoir apparently took two days of shooting to get the look he wanted on actor Dalio's face - a mixture of pride, embarrassment and joy. It is a wonderful moment of a director at work, for although the actors are generally fairly serviceable in their parts, none shines in what are intended to be shallow roles.

    The film was a family affair with the various Renoir's helping out in production. Legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson worked as assistant Director on the film and the beautiful costumes were designed by Coco Chanel.

    Compared to Renoir's earlier film La Grande Illusion, La Règle du jeu may on its face seem a trifle. It is true that watching it today it is hard to appreciate it to be quite the controversial masterpiece loved by critics world wide. Having said that, repeated viewing does pay dividends. As an example of how someone can use a simple farce template and undercut it with savage social criticism, the film stands as a monument.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    La Règle du jeu is presented on DVD in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

    As said above, the history of the actual physical film is a story in itself. With the original negative destroyed and previous versions of the film severely cut it was a labour of love for some film fans to reconstruct the film under the approving gaze of Renoir himself. It would have been nice to hear the story of the reconstruction as an extra.

    Given that history it is reasonable to have fairly low expectations about the transfer quality. In fact, the film does look good for its age and history. There are artefacts aplenty, including some blotches and lines running from top to bottom of the frame, but the overall image quality is good allowing the viewer to appreciate some of Renoir's deep focus photography. The picture is soft with age particularly the outdoor scenes such as the hunt.

    Age has been kinder to some elements of the stock than others, leading to some flickering of the image, but in general the picture quality is acceptable. A detailed frame-by-frame restoration would be the next step.

    The subtitles are clear and easy to read although they are on a black colour transparent mat which has been burned onto the print.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio for La Règle du jeu is French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

    The sound is often thin, never more so than when Renoir uses classical music. Although the audio sync is generally good there are many moments where slight damage to the source print affects the sync. It is not distracting.

    Interestingly, apart from the beginning and end of the movie, all other music used in the film comes from an on set source.

    The film opens with a title page carrying an extract from The Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais, another play (and later opera) in which the upper classes where mocked for their dalliances.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio

This is just a simple screen featuring some Mozart music.

Featurette-Making Of Image Par Image

This is a documentary on La Regle du Jeu directed and narrated by Pierre Oscar Levy. The rear of the DVD case describes it as a documentary on the making of the film however the actual product goes far deeper. It does not deal with the origins of the film so much as it does the script, ideas and filmic techniques used by Renoir. Using primitive but effective animations he shows how Renoirs camera placement elevated ordinary scenes into masterworks of composition. The documentary is fairly heavy going and requires concentration on the part of the viewer, but it must be said that it is of the highest level of intellectual engagement and is a must for anyone intersted in the film. In fact, this is a rare feature that commends itself to more than one viewing. It is in French with subtitles.

Introduction

The film is prefaced by a 9 minute introduction by Jean Renoir. This is a fascinating opportunity to see a great film maker present his own work. There is no date on this introduction, however Renoir speaks of the presentation of the restored film at the 1959 Venice Film Festival (in 1962) as having happened "three years ago" . The date of 1962 is consistent with the black and white photography and poor quality of the image.

Although the segment is brief Renoir is an entertaining speaker. He talks about the reception received by the film in 1939, and acknowledges his obvious debt to the great dramatists Marivaux, Beaumarchais and Moliere. Renoir died in 1979.

Trailer

This is a series of trailers for other Umbrella titles.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Anyone who reveres this film probably already has the Region 1 Criterion Collection DVD. It comes on 2 discs and although it does not have the documentary above it has two hours of added documentaries as well as written tributes to the film by other great directors.

Summary

     The Rules of the Game is a classic film with a history as dramatic as anything shown on screen.

    The transfer is the best that could be expected and the extras are exceptional. If you don't buy the Region 1 version grab the Region 4 version and see what all the fuss was about.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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