Jean Renoir, 1939
“Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game has been part of the film canon for so long that it's valuable to remind audiences how gloriously alive and just plain fun it is. Low comedy walks hand and hand with tragedy and beauty throughout; the film is frothy one minute, nearly apocalyptic the next, and so you're never fully allowed to gather your bearings. The Rules of the Game has a tone that could be symbolized by the escalating merry-go-round that prominently plays into the climax of Strangers on a Train—up and down, all around and seemingly totally out of control. The film, as Paul Schrader once wrote, represents all of cinema's possibilities in 106 minutes.
“The heart of Renoir's genius was his gift for hiding that genius. Expertly controlled, The Rules of the Game plays as one huge happy accident that might've been caught on the fly over the course of a long drunken weekend. Everything is just right, and the performances and individual moments are so remarkably alive that you accept the elaborate structure and symbolism as organic. The film is really about the potential destruction of society. But The Rules of the Game is so graceful with its volley of character trade-offs, both romantic and platonic, that you can't help but fall in a kind of love with it, a qualified love that still understands the sourness, the sadness, that gently informs every part of the film. We come to see the characters and their lifestyles as a tragic charade. The rules of the game are arbitrary stabs at pretend morality that can foster truly immoral behavior, as the rules of the game twist people up and confuse them. And the confusion that these games (ones we've never abandoned) inspire, which feeds into an unending inner regard, can destroy us.
“Even people who love The Rules of the Game, indisputably one of the greatest movies of all time, can overlook its toughness, which is, as an essayist once acknowledged, even obvious in the fashion that most people misquote the most famous line. As Octave, Renoir never said, ‘Everyone has their reasons,’ a sentiment that implies a certain benign, detached understanding of foible. Octave says something far tougher to entirely resolve: ‘The awful thing about life is this: Everyone has their reasons.’” ~ Chuck Bowen
“It appears that, if only as a result of Hitchcock and Ozu’s increasing stature, Renoir has lost some. His consensus masterpiece, 1939’s The Rules of the Game, has only Grand Illusion to contend with, a fine film that nonetheless falls short of Rules’ technical virtuosity, tonal delicacy and philosophical breadth. It's unique among canon favorites for its employment of broad farce, a large, protagonist-free ensemble and cunning vacillation between comedy and tragedy in which a jokey linguistic distinction—e.g., Octave’s substitution of ‘adieu’ for ‘au revoir’ to infatuation-object-slash-pal Christine—can become a severe measure of romantic love, when Genevieve instructs her spurning lover Robert how to say goodbye.
“For much of the film’s running time, ostensible lead Andre Jurieux is disregarded, giving way to an awe-inspiring, intricately choreographed stretch playing the fallout of his rejection off its marginally more slapsticky, servant-class mirror, the Lisette-Marceau-Schumacher love triangle. Perhaps, given certain post-recession critical trends, it doesn’t help Rules that its rep as a searing takedown of the upper class is reductive at best: its clearest display of childish vanity, Robert’s presentation of a gigantic music box, resonates with sympathetic heartache, and his suppression of the movie’s most explicitly resentful figure of poverty, Schumacher, comes with no small relief. But it’s also doubtful that Renoir would stand by his own character’s famous proclamation that ‘everyone has their reasons,’ since that statement, a shameless appeal to another character’s moral relativism, indirectly precipitates the movie’s heartbreaking finale. By so seamlessly dovetailing humanism and social criticism, Rules is triumphantly neither.” ~ Sky Hirschkron