Wednesday, July 22, 2009

THE RULES OF THE GAME (Jean Renoir, 1939, France) Octave is like a musical note, falling between the “high pitch” of the French elitist mongrels and the “lower frequency” but equally morally bankrupt servants. Octave’s friend André is an international hero, having crossed the Atlantic solo (like Charles Lindbergh) to be with his true love Christine. But from this frenetically charged atmosphere André criticizes this cult of personality and exclaims to the world that his inspiration has spurned him making this gallant accomplishment worthless. Director Jean Renoir utilizes a beautiful match cut from the interviewer’s microphone to Christine’s radio, and the disparate environment of a muddy airfield to her eloquently styled bedroom is visually striking. With one expert cut, Renoir creates an emotional distance that is as cold and frigid as the Atlantic. We soon learn that Octave is also in love with Christine…who is of course married to Robert…who is having an affair with Geneviève. The group eventually travels to Robert’s country estate, inviting friends and family, for a grand party of societal illusions: like Poe’s story MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, the elite hide from the world and play by their own rules. Even the servants are corrupted by the poisonous game, following their parts obediently and without reservation. But a World War is at their doorstep, and even though Renoir doesn’t directly reference the oncoming storm, the rabbit and pheasant hunt is reminiscent of the Nazi Blitzkrieg across Europe that will soon devour France. As the party progresses and lovers are swapped like kisses, bullets shatter the festivities but the guests amid their wine and revelry barely take notice. Each is insulated within their own clockwork concerns like the mechanical birds that obsess Robert. Finally, a case of mistaken identity leads to murder, a jealous retribution that is overlooked by the crowd as just a nightcap to their drunken debauchery. And these shallow aristocrats are near death…like the slowly dying rabbit whose last breath Renoir sadly captures, its tiny life slipping into the ether: a small animal more worthy of nobility than these forsaken caricatures. (A)

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