I used to be a huge film nerd in college and then got distracted from the cinema when I graduated, focusing on games writing and teaching. I've found myself wanting to get back to cinema appreciation so I'll be writing up my thoughts on the films I watch. Sometimes it'll be criticism, other times more personal. Hope you enjoy whatever comes from it!

The Rules Of The Game And What It Means To Be A Timeless Classic

I've been meaning to watch The Rules Of The Game for over a decade. It's one of the few French classics I haven't gotten around to, and it is, perhaps the French classic, often making some of the most prestigious film magazines' greatest films of all time list. I finally loaded up Jean Renoir's film to find out why it was so adored.

What I encountered was a comedy of manners and social satire that left me enchanted more than anything else. It's not the kind of film where its full impact strikes on the first viewing, as your brain is trying to understand the relationships between the characters and plot threads. When the movie ended, I felt pleased but also confused. It wasn't until I went back for a second viewing I got it, so to speak.

The Rules Of The Game is a strange beast: tragic, but bursting with joy while jabbing its spear at the callousness of French society on the even of the second World War and also trying to see them as people and celebrating their sad but amusing lives.

The film, reviled upon release but later celebrated by critics all over the world as being an influential masterpiece, follows the gathering of a group of upper class friends at a chateau in the countryside who are having a multi-day shindig. All of these characters have their own set of interconnected miseries that wouldn't be out of place in a Tolstoy novel. Lisette, a servant, is deeply loyal to her mistress, Christine (possibly having an unrequited crush on her) but Christine's love triangle drama means that Lisette never gets the affection she deserves.

Meanwhile Lisette is making her own husband miserable, refusing to show him love or even acknowledgement, playing her own part in turning him into the monster that he becomes by the end of the movie. Elsewhere, we have the complicated love triangle of Christine, who doesn't know what she wants from life, and Andre, a brave pilot who feels spurned that Christine won't return his affection, and Robert, Christine's husband who decides to stop an affair he's having with another woman so he can futilely attempt to save his marriage from being threatened by Andre's advances.

And of course, observing all of this is Octave, the supposedly wise character (Played with gusto by Jean Renoir himself) who eventually falls into the same mistakes and lusts that he's spent the movie making fun of the other characters for.

Essentially the party at the Chateau becomes Renoir's way of putting 1939 French society under a scope, by focusing on how self-absorbed all of these people are and how cruel they are to lovers, friends, and strangers alike. Take Robert, who owns the Chateau and makes one man's dream come true, giving him a job as a servant at the Chateau so that he raises in social ranking, only to take it away in an act of frustration and cruelty by the end. However, Renoir doesn't paint with broad strokes. His characters are not caricatures or walking philosophies. They are people, capable of being absolutely lovable and hilarious one moment, and downright dastardly the next.

This careful balancing act that Renoir pulls off makes the conclusion of the movie, where a tragedy of errors cost one central character their life, even more heartbreaking. You can feel all of these characters are standing on the edge of being good people but, in the end, all of them refuse to acknowledge that a murder has taken place. In spite of the victim being a close friend to many of the characters at the Chateau, all of them pretend that his death was merely an accident. For the sake of convenience and to avoid a scandal. Because it would unravel the fantasy-bourgeois society they've chosen to take part in. All of them choose to sell their souls for a machine that's about to be destroyed by the break of war anyway. Renoir's characters are not heroes or villains but pitiable creatures.

It's hard to not feel the timeliness of Renoir's subtle yet brutal social critique in a year with rising unrest, gun violence, and unprecedented level of doubt in the competence of the government. Renoir might have made The Rules Of The Game with the aim to slash away at vanity and corruption of his homeland, but its critiques and targets are not limited to the quirks of French society, but instead all modern civilization for all time. But it is Renoir's greatest triumph that he doesn't settle for bared teeth and vicious attacks. He also, somehow, seemingly impossibly, humanizes all the fools who partake in this rigged game, never once letting you forget how hard and beautiful it is to simply be alive.