Rules Of The Game is equal parts farce, satire and tragedy. Renoir set out to create "an exact description of the bourgeiosie of our time," and to that end cast Nora Gregor, an amateur actress and member of Renoir's target social class. Gregor is Christine, husband of the Marquis de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio, who fled Paris one year later, whose face was pasted on German posters of what a typical Jew looked like, and who, after playing French and ethnic types in Hollywood films including a small role as a croupier in Casablanca, returned to France; not only all this, but a wonderful actor as well). They aren't in love, and it's doubtful if they ever were. Christine is loved by aviator Andre Jurieu (Roland Toutain), and his friend Octave (director Renoir) finagles his invitation to the Marquis' country estate, where Andre can make his move for Christine.
On the estate, tensions arise between gamekeeper Schumacher (the great character actor Gaston Modot) and newly hired servent (and ex-poacher) Marceau (Julien Carette, who had been with Dalio in the previous year's Grand Illusion), who lusts after Lisette (Paulette Dubost), who's Christine's secretary and seems much more attached to her job than her husband. With all these tensions (oh...did I forget to mention that the Marquis is planning to discharge his mistress?), a party of the rich and idle and their servents, all armed with guns, arrive for a refreshing vacation in the country.
It would take a book, not an Internet review, to take apart Rules Of The Game. Some assorted bits and pieces, then: It goes without saying that the entire cast is flawless. Long before Mike Leigh, Renoir collaborated with his cast for the screenplay. Shot on a real estate in crisp black-and-white, one of the most famous elements of Rules Of The Game is the famous deep-focus cinematography, which allows Renoir to have multiple planes of action, and prevents him from using excessive cuts. The amount of information conveyed is staggering, even if it's mainly used for comic effect (Renoir considered the shot with a mini-organ the greatest shot of his career). You may be surprised how funny much of this movie is, but the laughs are never hollow: the underlying emptiness at heart is sad, and the ultimate tone of the film is tragic. This is a movie about emotions and people, not Inspector Clouseau Visits The Country. It's a staggering piece of work that appeals to everyone from bland mainstream critic Leonard Maltin to ultra-extremist Ray Carney (that would be the guy who prefers 10 minutes of a Caveh Zahedi movie to the entire, combined work of Kubrick, Allen, Lee and Stone) as an all-time masterpiece. After only one viewing, it's too soon to make any judgements about Top 10 ranking, but the film is good enough to merit considertaion. Far better than the diginified but stuffy Grand Illusion, Rules Of The Game is unforgettable and a miraculous concatention of wonderful circumstances.
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