Andre Jurieu, an aviator, loves Christine, wife of the Marquis de la Chesnaye. La Chesnaye is having a covert affair with the socialite Genevieve. Chesnaye's gamekeeper, Schumacher, is violently jealous of his wife Lisette, Christine's maid, whom he suspects of dallying with poacher-turned valet Marceau. Around them hovers the jocular, uneasy figure of Octave (played by Renoir himself), mediator, confidant and go-between. During a weekend at La Chesnaye's chateau all these intrigues bubble over into confusion, chaos and finally tragedy.
“After Grand Illusion and The Human Beast, Renoir was tired of psychology in movies. Undoubtedly he felt the need to show instead of to analyze, to move instead of to touch. As he explained in an interview, the ‘rules of the game are those which must be observed in society if one wishes to avoid being crushed.’ The problem is that of sincerity in love: ‘Dishonesty is a garment which weighs heavily … Earnest people are so boring … I would like to disappear, my friend, to see nothing more … Then I would no longer have to try to figure out what is good and what is bad; because you see in this world there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons … I am suffering, and I can’t stand that.’ These comments suggest the tone of the film and show how important the moral element is.
After the hunt Christine de La Chesnaye follows through a small spyglass the activities of a little squirrel perched on the branch of a tree. Then comes a tribute to the optics of the glasses, which one would like to think was meant as well as a definition of the camera and a homage to the cameraman: ‘Its lens is so powerful and it is so well made that, from a short distance, you see all the the animal’s private life, without his knowing it.’
Personally, I cannot this of another film maker who has put more of himself - and the best of himself - into a film than Jean Renoir has into The Rules of the Game."
“A lover is better. It is a far more spirited enterprise, and from the point of view of the husband, the taking of a lover by the wife is a means of extending and strengthening one’s social ties.
The world is made up of clans which elbows and fight their way toward material succes, and it is in the interest of the members of these clans to be united by strong bonds. One must only remember to keep up appearances and to observe the rules of the game.
The rules of the game infuriate Aline, and she insists that if she ever loved anyone but her husband, she would not hesitate to give herself to him without thinking about it. At this point a visitor is announced, and Aline leaves her friends.”
Early scenario for The Rules of the Game (extract), scene III2
“The darkness falling over Europe is reflected in the savage pessimism of La Règle du jeu. With hindsight, the complacency and hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie represented in the film can be taken as an indictment of its responsibility for the outbreak of war. But a more productive reading of the film is one that sees it as a summing up of the events and emotions of the years from 1935 on. Our knowledge, and the film’s internal evidence that it was made in the aftermath of Munich are sufficient proof that La Règle du jeu represents a social reality that has been historically produced, but the film pessimistically allows that this social reality is no longer easily (peaceably?) transformed. The expectations that had been raised with the elections and reforms of 1936 were shattered. And in so far as the implementation of these expectations depended upon a politics of compromise and an economics of concession rather than radical change, perhaps the entrenchment of capital and the lassitude of decision-makers were inevitable. This I have no doubt Renoir realised, perhaps in what one must call an intuitive way, but he realised it nevertheless. What else can one say of a film that depicts a class, a society even, drawn in upon itself, and led by a master who declares that he does not want fences on his estate and he does not want rabbits either? That is not a tolerant, well-meaning attitude; it is an indecisive and irresponsible one. Such indecision is dangerous, even fatal. Renoir hit the truth when he gave out in an interview in January 1939, that La Règle du jeu was to be ‘a precise description of the bourgeoisie of our age.’ He later declared: ‘I knew the evil that was gnawing at my contemporaries’; and later he said: ‘It is a war film, and yet there is no reference to the war.’”
“The château’s interiors are adorned by large paintings, statuettes, mirrors, and ornately crafted bed-posts that also feature in the la Chesnayes’ home. Deleuze’s description of La Colinière as a setting that embodies the past is worth analysing in relation to the la Chesnayes’ attempt to efface the intrusion of the ongoing present and reassert their dominance, and to the problematic conceptions of national identity explored by the film. The theatricality that holds the past in tension with the ongoing present is expressed through two key aspects of the manor’s physical layout, each of which caters to Christine and Robert’s efforts to cement their status among the haute bourgeoisie. The first is the château’s expansive hunting grounds, which complement its embodied history of past hunts. The second is the proscenium arch, which provides a centrepiece of the celebrations and a podium from which to mock the contemporary social issues impinging on the la Chesnayes’ (im)mobility in Paris.”
- 1. François Truffaut, “Filmography,” in André Bazin (ed.), Jean Renoir (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), trans. W.W. Halsey II and William H. Simon.
- 2. André Bazin (ed.), Jean Renoir (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), trans. W.W. Halsey II and William H. Simon.
- 3. Christopher Faulkner, The Social Cinema of Jean Renoir (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 108-9.
- 4. Barry Nevin, Cracking Gilles Deleuze’s Crystal (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), 56-7.