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  • Jeff Beck

The Rules of the Game: Jean Renoir's Classic Satire Gets a 4K Upgrade (Criterion 4K/Blu-ray)


The Film:


Back in the 1930s, famed French director Jean Renoir delivered what are considered his two most famous works. First, in 1937 he gave us the marvelous anti-war film "Grand Illusion," which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and was the very first film added to the Criterion Collection. Then just a mere two years later, he wrote, directed, and starred in the delightful satire "The Rules of the Game," a film that had been something of a disaster upon its release, getting significantly trimmed and even banned in France. Luckily it was restored to nearly its full original runtime in 1959, and has since been called one of the greatest films of all time by many. This month sees the film receive Criterion's remarkable 4K upgrade, so once again it's time to go back and revisit another classic to see why it has continued to resonate with audiences over 80 years later.


As the film starts, pilot Andre Jurieux (Roland Toutain) completes a flight across the Atlantic to much fanfare. His friend Octave (Jean Renoir) informs him that the woman he was hoping to have greet him, Christine (Nora Gregor), has not come, causing Andre to express his disappointment to the reporters present. Christine, as it turns out, is a member of the upper-class, and has been married to Robert (Marcel Dalio), the Marquis de la Chesnaye, for three years. We quickly learn that Andre and Christine had a not-so-secret relationship in the past, which Robert is fully aware of. Meanwhile, we also learn that Christine's devoted maid Lisette (Paulette Dubost) is married to Edouard Schumacher (Gaston Modot), the gamekeeper of Robert's country estate.


To make this tangled little web complete, it is revealed that Robert has been keeping a mistress named Geneviève (Mila Parély), a relationship he is trying to break off. However, Robert is planning a getaway to his country estate for some hunting, to which he invites Geneviève. As it so happens, all of our major players end up at the estate as well, including a would-be poacher named Marceau (Julien Carette), who merely ends up making things more complicated. As these various relationships cross paths, the viewer is treated to a fascinating weekend of frivolity and surprises.


Now the very first thing you'll notice is that the film involves several characters & connections that can be a little bewildering at first, but Renoir takes his time with the first half of the film to make sure the viewer is able to sort everyone and their relationships out. That said, it can be argued that perhaps he takes a little too much time doing so, especially once the group gathers at the estate. That is to say, the viewer can be forgiven for wondering after a while if the film is actually going to get anywhere as they slowly assemble and go on a hunt that feels rather long.


However, our patience is rewarded in the second half as things come to a head between certain guests. Feelings are exposed, dangerous threats are made, and ultimately deadly mistakes occur. I won't go into any detail about it, but it most certainly makes sitting through the rather slower first half worth it. It's something of a powder keg that you can see Renoir assembling as he brings all of these fascinating characters together, leaving you to wonder just how long it'll take before the entire thing starts going off, and when it does, you simply sit back and watch the fireworks.


Renoir's comedy of manners may have been frowned upon during its initial release in France for its carefree portrayal of the upper class on the eve of World War II, but as mentioned, it has been reassessed over the subsequent decades that have passed since its original restoration, and is now seen by many as a masterpiece (one that has been on the prestigious Sight & Sound poll every decade since the poll began). It is a great film, no doubt, with the only thing really holding it back for me being that somewhat plodding first half. Could Renoir have gotten to the fireworks sooner? Maybe, but at the very least, he uses that extra time to emphasize his characters and their intermingled lives. What results is still a wonderful satire that filmmakers & audiences alike continue to admire all these decades later. It may have a flaw or two, but in the end, it all balances out to something remarkably special.


Video/Audio:


This new edition of "The Rules of the Game" features the film on both 4K (2160p) and Blu-ray (1080p) in 1.37:1 transfers of excellent quality. While it still has the amount of grain you'd expect, the film easily looks the best that I've ever seen it. Likewise, the uncompressed monaural soundtrack is incredible, giving you all of the dialogue and score in outstanding quality. Overall, the film simply looks and sounds fantastic, which is no surprise coming from the amazing folks at Criterion.


Special Features:


Commentary Featuring Peter Bogdanovich Reading Text by Renoir Scholar Alexander Sesonske

Renoir Introduction (7 Minutes)

Version Comparison (13 Minutes)

Scene Analysis (9 Minutes)

Jean Renoir, Le Patron (31 Minutes)

Jean Renoir (60 Minutes)

Production History (46 Minutes)

Interviews (43 Minutes)


The film comes with a fantastic collection of special features that includes documentaries about Renoir, interviews with select people who worked on the film, a comparison of the short & long version endings, and a fascinating introduction from Renoir himself. With over three hours of intriguing material, Criterion certainly went above and beyond with these extras.


Conclusion:


Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" may take its time in establishing its characters and their deeply-intermingled circumstances, but once the sparks start to fly, it becomes a remarkably entertaining satire that will have you transfixed with its shocking revelations and other surprises.


Score: 4/5


Now available on Criterion 4K/Blu-ray.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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