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on January 24, 2004
On the surface, THE RULES OF THE GAME is a frivolous satire of the French ruling class during the interwar years. But beneath it, this 1939 film is a rather sweeping appraisal on human nature and how the rigidity of our society continues to undermine our humanity. With a microcosmic cast of characters that comprises of masters and servants, the film weaves an intricate plot about their love, jealousies, deceit, infidelities, hypocrisies, misunderstandings, and, at times, reconciliations, and realignments of friends and foes. Through their travails, the film depicts a symbolic breakdown, and ultimately restoration, of the prevailing social order, resulting in the film being both a comedy and a tragedy. Director Jean Renoir also acts in the film, playing the pivotal role of an outsider (obviously a stand-in for the audience). His character's futile attempts to break into the "circle" and to bring about the well-beings of his friends suggest that it is often difficult to survive under the social order, let alone change it.
The Criterion DVD is an all-region two-disc set with a newly restored video transfer and plenty of rewarding extra material. This eagerly-awaited disc was originally to be released last Fall, when Criterion had already finished a video transfer that would have looked better than any existing copy of the film. But at the last minute, Criterion received word that an earlier-generation fine-grain master of the film had been located in France, and that additional improvement, though not dramatic, could be made to the picture quality. Being the perfectionist that it often is, Criterion decided to redo the video transfer based on the fine-grain master, thus delaying the DVD's release by several months. According to the New York Times article "Hunting 'The Rules of the Game'" on Jan-18-04, the redone transfer justified the additional time and cost by yielding more details in dark areas and richer shades of grey on the picture, resulting in a less harsh look and perhaps subliminally making the characters in the film seem more sympathetic.
The DVD's video quality is indeed the best I've ever seen. Its sharpness and clarity of details are a revelation to those who have seen, for instance, Criterion's laserdisc version years ago. A digital cleanup process has been used to eliminate much (but not all) of the dirt and blemishes. The original French audio track has also been improved, and it now sounds cleaner, with almost no hiss and pops, and more detailed. In a film that relies on its numerous visual and audio details to be effective, the technical improvements made for this DVD are absolutely worthwhile and welcomed.
Accompanying the film is a superb analytical audio commentary written by film historian and Renoir's friend Alexander Sesonske, and read fluidly by Peter Bogdanovich. Recorded in 1989 for the Criterion laserdisc, this commentary analyzes the intricate relationships of the characters, how their actions often counterpoint one another's, and what Renoir intends to accomplish with them. It points out that the story creates two groups of quintets, each comprising of a husband, wife, lover, mistress, and interceding friend, and that the actions in one group are often the opposites of the other. The commentary also mentions the political climate in which Renoir made the film, as well as the classical works (such as The Marriage of Figaro) that inspired Renoir.
A 30-minute excerpt of the 1967 TV documentary "Jean Renoir, le patron", originally included in the laserdisc version, is also included in this DVD. It is essentially an interview of Renoir, who talks about his shooting style, and the themes and characters of the film. There is also a rather poignant moment of Renoir reuniting with actor Marcel Dalio at the steps of the "La Colinière," where they reminisce about their experience.
The DVD includes a great one-hour documentary on Renoir and RULES OF THE GAME, made by BBC in 1993. It recalls Renoir's childhood, upbringing, how his love of the movies developed, and his film career up to and including RULES OF THE GAME. It shows fascinating clips of his early films such as LA FILLE DE L'EAU, CHARLESTON, NANA, LA CHIENNE, BONDU SAVED FROM DROWNING, and others. It also includes comments from his family members, friends, collaborators, and other filmmakers such as Bertrand Tavernier, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Peter Bogdanovich.
Perhaps the best supplement in the whole DVD set is a "Version Comparison" that provides side-by-side comparison of the final scenes in two versions of the film: the shorter 81-minute cut which Renoir reluctantly made in response to criticisms, and the longer 106-minute version that was reconstructed in 1959 (the version used for this DVD's presentation). Film historian Christopher Faulkner's commentary provides further elucidation on the differences between the two. Thus, we can plainly see for ourselves that the shorter version drastically eliminates many of the subtleties and alters the meaning of the film's final moments completely.
Also valuable is a 10-minute interview footage of the two people who reconstructed the 1959 version, Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand. They recall their multi-year efforts in finding film elements from all over the world, and eventually discovering several minutes of footage that was not in Renoir's original version (one of such footage is the long conversation between Octave and André at the knoll in the countryside).
Other extras include an 8-minute "video essay" (a featurette) on the film's production history, 3 interview segments, and several written tributes by today's filmmakers, which include a few pretty thoughtful mini-essays on the film as well as succinct comments such as that from Robert Altman: "THE RULES OF THE GAME taught me the rules of the game."
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on April 10, 2004
I've been watching this movie intermittently for 30 years since I was first introduced to it in a film class at college. Seeing it in Criterion's spectacular transfer is falling in love again with this landmark of 20th century art. What was once squinting at a blurry reproduction is now a riveting experience in time travel, taking me back to what it must have been like to see it first run in 1939. The only thing that's missing are riots in theater, but I can do without that in my living room.
As for the film itself, what's really striking is that what is one level a formalistic imitation of classical French drama interbreeds with some kind of prophetic documentary of sick souls and a sick society. Remember that in 1939, war was in the cards but nobody new if it would be a passing crisis or gateway to a new dark ages. Renoir didn't just stare into the abyss, he climbed down for a better look.
It's a cliche to say that they don't make 'em like that any more. But here I'm torn between regret that such a thing is no longer possible and relief that it's no longer necessary.
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on April 10, 2004
Don't listen to the people who badmouth this film. The context of the time and place have to be taken into account. But even so, it is not an irrelevant or dated film. The camerawork and choreography of the action are still impressive.
The transfer is good and the supplements are extensive. Criterions are expensive because of their limited audience and the amount of work they put into them. Rules of the Game won't be selling Bad Boys II numbers. For the film buff this DVD is worth the price.
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on January 20, 2004
Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game is a classic among classics in cinema. One would be hard pressed to find a reputable critic who doesn't put this film in their top-ten films of all time. This isn't just a critics' film either. It is filled with satiric wit and brilliant ideas, not to mention it's look and pace. That said, when Criterion puts out a film like this with the extras they unearth, the price is reasonable. When this company releases a film you know you are going to get a pristine transfer, (of a 65 year-old film) and extras that actually get into the film. Not an HBO making of featurette that has the actors telling you what you already know. These are featurettes that they have licenced from European broadcasters or small independent companies.
A good example is Criterion's release of Tarkovsky's Solaris versus Soderberg's Solaris which was released by Universal. Criterion's extras are head and shoulders above the Universal release. As much as I loved Soderberg's version of the novel, the extras were painfully out of place.
When Criterion releases a film (especially in a double disc edition as is Rules of the Game) it isn't merely just your average dvd release, it is almost an event. And worth every penny.
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on April 29, 2004
Corruption of the French aristocracy and their "Rules of the game" that they abide by in order to remain where they are, it revolves around a central plot of this pilot who flies to France for the woman he loved but she is marries and the husband is trying to end the affair and they are all with a bunch of members of the aristocracy, it is truly a great film. Criterion collection is growing to my liking quite a lot, the picture and sound are great for a movie made in 1939. Good movie, watch it you fiend.
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on June 16, 2004
"The Rules of the Game" directed by Jean Renoir is now ranked #1 on many film critic lists. Renior built a comedy of manners around old stories. When this film was viewed in Paris in 1939 there was a near riot. The critics hated it for political reasons, but also because characters were walking about the Chateau at amazing speed and angles. If you don't understand the history of the beginnings of WW2, then all will be lost on your Philistine soul. Somehow in an upstairs-downstairs comedy, Renior has described the failed French society. I'll describe the plot concept using English names. Randy, the aviator loves the rich lady, Christine. She's not French; she's Viennese (the only outsider). He's a romantic fool, she's an innocent compared to the Parisian women like Clair, the sophisticated lover of Christine's husband, the Count. Renior plays Alph, a court jester character and friend of Christine from the old days. He's a failed musician. He's also Randy's best friend. The French Count is played by a Jewish actor (which was a scandal in itself considering the anti-Semitism in Europe) So they all leave Paris and go to the country estate of the Count where we meet the servants of the Chateau. Christine's maid, Crystal is playing around with Alph and the newly hired rabbit poacher Jimmy. The gamekeeper, the cuckold Paul chases the amorous Jimmy around the Chateau with a gun for the next forty minutes. All the lovers and friends switch partners amidst declarations of love, slaughter of animals, and fist fights. In the end, noone is in love with anyone and all of society is concerned with the game, which is where he or she were in the first place. Truth is not a concern and the masterpiece is complete.
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on March 28, 2004
Harold Bloom seems to think Richard III is kind of a so-so play and one Amazon reviewer considers Benvenuto Cellini, by Hector Berlioz, to be a lousy opera. Jacques Barzun--a pretty intelligent guy--runs with the idea that Shakespeare and Berlioz were a heck of a lot smarter than any of us and sometimes a work of art is so amazing none of us can get our heads fully around it. The secret word here is "humility." Signs (sometimes)of genuine greatness: a group of people loves a thing passionately but can't fully explain why and another group finds the same thing overrated or boring. As with works of Berlioz and Shakespeare, this film will probably continue to generate mixed reviews several hundred years from now, when a lot of other "classics" are tired or forgotten. My opinion is it's a masterpiece and I can't fully tell you why either. Buy it, watch it, and if you don't like it put it up for sale and invest the profits in "Run, Lola, Run" or "The Lord of the Rings"--films whose merits can be readily explained. That way another film buff, a little short on dough perhaps, will be able to appreciate "The Rules of the Game."
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on March 7, 2004
I had no idea what to expect before watching this film. I purposefully kept myself ignorant of it because I wanted to experience it as fresh as possible. All I knew was that, for years, it has consistently placed second on the Sight & Sound polls of the greatest films of all time (Citizen Kane always comes in first). Now, knowing that a film is considered one of the greatest of all time sometimes means that you are in for a snore. There are some so-called "classics" that just bore me to tears (The Conformist or L'Aventura spring to mind).
Yes, this is one of the greatest movies ever made. Yes, it is a satire on aristocratic society at the time. Yes, it was badly received and banned by the Nazis. Blah, blah, blah - who cares? The amazing thing is what a joy this movie is to watch. It is genuinely funny. I often hear it cited as the main influence on Robert Altman, and now I can understand why. Instead of criticizing Paul Thomas Anderson for copying Altman, we should appreciate Altman imitating Renoir. Here we see the big cast without any real central character, the anarchic humor, and the brisk energy that moves everything along.
Like everything in the Criterion Collection, this print LOOKS VERY GOOD. This is all the more important since the original negative had been destroyed in World War II and for years only second-rate prints were available. There is a second disc that documents all the travails that this film went through, and how it was edited to several different versions. The version we have now was restored in the fifties outside (but with the blessing of) Renoir. This print is 98 minutes long. The original was 91 minutes, and we are still missing an unimportant scene from that original version. I would have liked to have had a new documentary with more commentary from contemporary filmmakers (especially Altman who admits that he learned "the rules of the game from The Rules of the Game"). However, there is a voice-over commentary track by Peter Bogdonavich, who is as good a film scholar as they come.
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on January 28, 2004
On its surface, "The Rules of the Game" is a light farce involving the couplings - and decouplings - of an assortment of weekend guests staying at the chateau of the Comte de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio). Without knowing any other context, the film can be enjoyed on this level: Renoir's writing (he co-scripted) is witty and his direction is elegant and sublime. His fluid long-shots make you feel like you're gliding along in this rarified - though topsy-turvy - world; and his open approach to the actors is suffused with generosity. He never allows us to focus on one particular person, or couple, because, in this social world, "everyone has their reasons" and everyone's actions bounce and intertwine with everyone else's.
As a homage and updating of a classic French farce, "Rules" is flawless; it is, however, as a commentary on the decline of a social order that makes this more than a cinematic souffle. Shot in 1939, "between Munich and the War" as Renoir says, the film is portrait of the European aristocracy where ethical codes (conjugal fidelity above all) are not only violated, but are even dismissed as irrelevant. Human relationships collapse and reform with sudden ease (witness the gameskeeper and the poacher) and those who cling to outmoded notions of love and faithfulness set themselves up for disaster (such as the aviator). This is the domestic complement to Renoir's war drama, "La Grande Illusion", where the mournful French and German artistocratic officers, having more in common amongst themselves than with the common soldiers of their respective nationalities, lament that mechanized warfare has rendered their class irrelevant.
Both "Illusion" and "Rules" may seem irrelevant themselves in the US, which did not have a traditional feudal aristocracy. Yet both films fascinate by showing individuals attempting to survive, and thrive, in worlds where the old, comfortable standards no longer apply. If the aristocrats in "Rules" openly, and rather disinterestedly, conduct affairs with each others' spouses, why shouldn't a humble poacher poach a gameskeeper's wife too? If "everyone has their reasons", the famous quote from the film, then, who's to decide which "reasons" are justified or unjust, legitimate or scandalous?
The Criterion double-disc sets its own standards. The extras are plentiful and fascinating, including interviews from the few remaining cast and crew members, the essay booklet intelligent and penetrating, and the transfer quality of the film is superb considering the film's history (having been cut at its premiere, banned, its original negative destroyed in WWII, and finally reassembled in the late 1950's). This disc was clearly a labor of love and the effort shows throughout: this disc is worth Criterion's asking price.
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on January 25, 2004
Rules of the Game is a film that displays the dishonesty of the French aristocracy and the rules that they play by in order to remain in good standards with their upper class. It begins with André, a heroic pilot, that has crossed the Atlantic in order to display his love for Christine. However, André is rejected by Christine as she does not appear when he lands on French soil. Christine's husband, Robert, is attempting to put an end to a long love affair with his mistress, but is incapable of breaking up the affair. The four of them are united with a large group of aristocrats at their chateau for a weekend hunting party and this is where the game truly begins and the rules are set into action, which are even mimicked by the servants. Rules of the Game is directed by the cinematic genius Renoir and this shines through in this film as the story unfolds. It should also be mentioned that this film nearly got destroyed during World War II, but was reconstructed in 1959 in order for coming generations to be able to view Renoir's vision of the disappearing French aristocracy.
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