Règle du jeu, La
Made on the cusp of WWII, Jean Renoir’s satire of the upper-middle classes was banned as demoralising by the French government for two decades after its release.
“While La Règle du jeu presents itself as a contrivance, a game with emotions, a toying with reality and illusion, it is also a self-portrait of rare depth.”
Roy Armes, French Cinema, 1985
In 1939 Jean Renoir, a director associated with the left wing Popular Front, turned his gaze away from working people to the haute bourgeoisie. Taking its cue from the classic stage farces of Musset and Beaumarchais, Renoir sets his action during a shooting weekend at a country house. It’s an upstairs-downstairs world where servants and masters become enmeshed in a tangle of desire, a jumble of motivations in which, in the film’s famous phrase, “Everyone has their reasons”. At the film’s centre is the amiable Octave (played by Renoir), whose best intentions lead to tragedy.
Shot in long, controlled takes that stress the depth of vision, Renoir’s depiction of an intransigent society teetering blithely into disaster was derided upon release and only later acclaimed as one of cinema’s most vital films.
American director Robert Altman paid tribute to La Règle du jeu with his own upstairs-downstairs country-manor murder mystery, Gosford Park (2002).