Approved. I watched this with my kids in the room because it was subtitled, but it involves bad people being bad to one another. Olivia can read, but she chose to run around the house instead.
DIRECTOR: Jean Renoir
What happened to me? This used to be on every recommendation list I ever had. I have to give a bit of context. We just finished our "French Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s" unit. (Don't you wish you had my life?) I tried to think what movie would be the epitome of this era and the first thing that popped into my head? The Rules of the Game. The magnum opus by one of the greatest directors of all time! But it's been a while and I supposed I should have prepped it before showing the class. So last weekend, I sit down, hacking my lungs out and I start watching what I remembered to be one of my favorite movies. Only this time, I'm watching from the point of view of a teenager who has no experience with Renoir and French cinema and I used one of the unforgivable curses on this movie. It's kind of...boring?
Okay, I've established that I like boring. But there's always a part of me that wants other people to love movies the same way I do. I don't think there are many times to feel more vulnerable than when you want people to love a film or a work of art like you do. It's so uncomfortable. Watching this one as a pre-screening hurt so hard because I know that everyone in that room would have fallen asleep and disregarded it. But that's not necessarily a criticism on them. After all, a few of the people who might actually read this might be in the class. It's a very "deep-end-of-the-pool" film. Renoir is punctuating his career with a movie that was panned when he premiered it. It only gained a level of respect well after it was savaged by its initial audience. How can I expect anyone to just love it? I think I had fallen in love with The Lower Depths before I had seen this initially. (Two Lower Depths references in two reviews. Trust me, I'm really nervous about returning to that movie as well.) Renoir, a guy who made The Grand Illusion about the unrelenting spirit of man, spits on humanity as selfish and corrupt. The Rules of the Game is a bummer of a film. Like, I like when the protagonist is more of an anti-hero probably more than the next guy, but the characters here are pretty unlikable.
I do find it amusing that Renoir himself plays Octave, the only slightly human character in the movie. He's still slightly off of the morality train, but the choices he makes are at least understandable and relatable. But everyone else is just a piece of human garbage. The story is the Upstairs/Downstairs slash Downton Abbey tale (I had to write "slash" due to the unfortunate punctuation of the first title), but people are openly awful about their selfishness. I love Downton, but The Rules of the Game is meant to be critical of culture and Renoir chooses to state his morality clearly. This might have been also the first time where I watched the movie with a focus on the end of the movie as well because I was looking for setup. That lack of shock that I had this time might have influenced my overall opion of the movie. The shock is great, but it might have the problem of being viewed too many times and my comfort with the film.
The movie is still very gorgeous and beautifully shot. I do wonder if the skeleton sequence was a nod to Melies, but I do have him on the brain when it comes to constantly referrring to him in class. (There's a few names that just get beaten to death because of their innovations.) In terms of what we're discussing in class, The Rules of the Game proves everything about the French Golden Age of Cinema. it is extremely complex and very intellectual. It is challenging and literary. It has a degree of photogenie, which is super cool and it does seem very earnest. Well, minus Rolande Toutain's eyebrows, which will always put me off.
One performance I'd like to point out is that of Julien Carrette. We're watching The Grande Illusion right now because I thought it was more appealing to a class. (Hint: I was right. That movie is hitting a sweet spot right now.) Carrette is also in that movie playing a similar character to his part in The Rules of the Game. In Illusion, the character is likable, but again very forward and very physical in his comedy. Carrette plays the same thing here, but he is a scoundrel. The character is meant to be funny, almost mirroring Much Ado About Nothing levels of avoiding detection. But the character is a horrible human being. For a criticism about the upper class, the inclusion of this character is an odd choice. He is the everyman and he is truly awful. If anything, the only character I truly sympathize with is the watchman and he is meant to be the antagonist. I have the same reaction to Oklahoma!, so don't get me started. Why have this character be such a horrible human being? He destroys what he touches and always wants more. Going back to Much Ado, I notice similar characters in Shakespeare, but that character is usually in a story filled with moderately likable characters.
Perhaps I had it set up for me to really love it as much as when I saw it the first time. Renoir is a genius to me and one of my idols, but I couldn't get the same experience. I have to blame myself again because I know that there is something genius here. But I just left more depressed than before.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.