The Rules of the Game

The Rules of the Game ★★★★★

I'd wager that half of all reviews of The Rules of the Game start with this quote, "The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons." The other half are likely to include it somewhere in the middle, maybe at the end. And for good reason, too. It captures the mood of the film quite well, glib and with an underlying sentimentality and understanding of the way people work. It is a re(pre?)phrasing of the old line about everybody being the lead in their own play. What we can justify to ourselves, we do, and what we can't, we don't. That might be the very basic rule of the game. And the game here is, like the start of a tennis match, love all. The rich love and the lower class love, and the love is spread all around. How each person acts on their love is dependent upon their character and their situation, and given that there are about 8 people with whom at least one other person is in love, things get complicated. Have no fear, though, Jean Renoir is here.

Renoir, who also plays a pretty major role in the film as the affable but lonely friend to all, makes both a farce and a tragedy out of all of this foolishness. His speedy and lithe camera flits around the giant chateau seemingly on wings rather than in a track, and he rarely cuts away from the master shot for a close up. He'd rather us understand the context of everything, who is watching the goings on from where, and what they think of it all. In this way we are invited to participate in the antics alongside the characters, to empathize with each and every one of them. Going back to the quote, it's important that "everybody" has their reasons. The cheater and the cheated upon are both seen with affection, even if it is sometimes sneering at their silliness. "That's also part of the times, today everyone lies," says the one man who won't. The movie punishes him for it, but might he also be better off? At least he no longer has to play the game.

I watched Seven Samurai yesterday. It is twice as long as this film, basically, and yet this one feels so much richer thanks to Renoir's ability to balance everything. Few scenes are just one thing. The hunt at the center of the film exposes some of the trysts that are happening under the surface and it plays as the closest thing to a war scene that this movie will get, although it is concerned in part with WWII, which will soon break out. Or look at the madcap misadventure at the party after the hunt, there all the characters we have come to love play off each other, one running from the other, these hiding from those, rivals turned friends. All handled with dynamism and a deft sense of space. Marvelous.