After watching The Rules of the Game I am really starting to wonder if I am going about this the wrong way; perhaps I am not smart enough for this project. The Rules of the Game is quite a lot better than I have made it sound – a masterpiece;that is not what I am talking about. These are 50 movies, some made nearly a century ago, that do not need any one class film schmuck to tell curious people what he thinks, like it may actually ever change the way new viewers feel about these films.
First, watch the film. Seriously, everything about it is well worth the time. Then come back and read if you want.
How should I watch these films? I feel that the truest method is to watch the film with little to no knowledge about what I am going to see. The problem that I have with this is that I am left wondering what I am missing of the greatness.
The Rules of the Game, for instance, is one of the first films to feature a constantly moving camera and deep focus. How often can I watch a film without thinking about film technique of the time? Jean Renoir, the director and a major actor, just wanted to make a film; it was a financial disaster at the time, it had major edits after its release, it was banned in France after four months, and it nearly ended Renoir’s career.
I can understand why it was banned. While I do not think that art should ever be censored, the decision was because it was “depressing, morbid, immoral [and] having an undesirable influence over the young.” Thinking about the MPAA film ratings system, the Comic Code Authority, and the PRMC committee I have a solid understand of the effects of conservative prudishness on the arts. I understand it is easier to stop people from seeing the truth than it is to explain why it is risqué.
The Rules of the Game clearly piqued the fear of embarrassment of the French authorities. It was depressing and morbid, and I can see how it may have incited a riot among the youth of France after they saw the decadence of the hunt. This film was released while the threat of war was looming throughout Europe and the idea that the wealthy may be more interested in the frolicking and lust could demoralize the youth who would likely be conscripted into the war.
There seems to really be two sides to the story. The first is the decadence. These are very wealthy people who are spending their time living a lavish lifestyle. You can see the interaction between the rich and their staff; there is almost a friendly atmosphere between the highest ranks in the household. I assume this is similar to what you can see in Downton Abbey, though I have not watched any of that, but I can say that it is reminiscent of Jeeves and Wooster as well as Gosford Park. (This can lead to a wholly different discussion of society’s interest in watching the wealthy boobs and their keepers.)
The other side of The Rules of the Game is that this is a pure love story with several suitors all vying for the heart of one woman (and like the previous point, we are treated to two parallel love stories separated by class).
***Please stop reading if you have not watched the movie. ***
Something that I find interesting is the end of the wealthy suitors, not the dénouement per se, but with Renoir’s character nearly ending up with the female lead. I am thinking about this on a metaphysical idea of the film. In this story it is the director that ends up victorious rather than the others vying for her heart. The writer crafts a story that is dear to their heart, a romantic affair that they, themselves, probably wish would come true in their own lives. How often do we actually see the storytellers find the exact thing that they set out to romanticize?
Did Renoir write the story the way he did so this one time he, personally, could be the hero, the victor only to later realize that this was not what he actually wanted? To get that which his heart had elevated too far from what logic would dictate? It was not right and he knew it; his momentary whims end with the death of the true suitor.
This leads to the question, does the class of the two men matter? Is their grief enough to relinquish them from responsibility? If I saw any of the characters as a self-reflection, who would I be?
I am not interested in arguing the order of the films on this list. The Rules of the Game was placed at number 4, which is fair. This film, as well as most of the others I have viewed, will likely have a lasting effect on my life, I am better for watching this picture.