A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 586 – The Rules of the Game (1939)

The Rules of the Game – October 7th, 2011

Going into this tonight I admit, I was a little nervous. I’d last seen it in high school for a class and I vividly recall being incredibly taken with it. The problem was I couldn’t for the life of me remember just what about it had interested me. I had vague memories of some of the scenes and I knew most of it took place in a huge hunting lodge in the French countryside. I knew there was a theme of infidelity and that someone died. I knew it was in black and white. I had a mental image of a particular shot of one of the characters. And that was it. That’s all I could remember. So I was nervous that I would watch it for a second time, fifteen years later, and be appalled at my own taste.

Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the case. I’m still not entirely sure what specifically caught that much of my interest, but while I wasn’t as swept away by it this time as I was before, I did enjoy it. And watching it with a more critical eye was kind of fun. I don’t always enjoy watching things critically like this. Sometimes I just want to sit back and let the movie play. But this movie all but invites some critical viewing. It wasn’t made to be an escapist fantasy or an action movie or anything like that. It was made as social commentary. The pity of it is that it’s social commentary on a society and time period I’m not terribly familiar with. So I can make some general comments, but the particulars of the mood of the country at the time aren’t my thing. Some of the finer points of the movie are just sailing right over my head and the best I can say is that I’m aware of it.

For anyone completely unfamiliar with this movie, it’s a French film from the late 1930s, pre-World War II. The story revolves around a number of relationships between various people. There are married couples and affairs and there’s flirting and arguing. Christine and Robert are a married couple living a life of luxury in Paris. Robert has a mistress (Genevieve) but whether or not Christine is seeing someone else is rather a mystery at first. A famous aviator, Andre, opens the movie by very publicly declaring that the woman he loves has disappointed him and as Christine has been rather close with him, well. Assumptions are made. Andre and Christine’s mutual friend, Octave, shows up and eventually everyone (yes, everyone, including Christine’s niece, who falls for Andre) is headed off to the countryside to Christine and Robert’s chateau.

I remember thinking at the time that I first watched this that there was something very Shakespearean about it all. The big house in the country and the huge group of people of various social roles and strata and the interplay between them all just seemed like it belonged on stage. Of course, at the time that I first saw this I’d been taking a course in Shakespeare for most of the school year, so I was primed to see everything in relation to it. Regardless, it did strike me again watching it now. I’m sure this sort of thing is older than Shakespeare and he wasn’t the only one doing it, but still. The setting feels like a cross between Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night but not played so much for obvious laughs. Then too, while I was told by a college professor that the theory of simultaneous plots for upper and lower class audiences in Shakespearean plays is total bullshit (he was less coarse than that, but his meaning was quite clear), I still maintain that regardless of the intended audiences, plays like Twelfth Night did indeed often have multiple groups of characters playing out their own stories at the same time. And that happens here too. While Christine and Robert and Genevieve and Andre Christine’s niece, Jackie and Octave all dance around each other, Christine’s maid is at the peak of an entirely separate triangle.

Lisette, the maid, is married to the game warden at the chateau. It suits her just fine to live in the city with Christine and Robert where she can carry on her own affairs without worrying about her husband’s reaction. She’s very clear about that when Christine asks her about it. Meanwhile, Genevieve tells Robert that he should just tell Christine about the two of them. When Robert declines, saying Christine wouldn’t understand, Genevieve complains that if Robert had married Parisian woman it would be different. Expected. Christine, on the other hand, is Viennese, and it is assumed that she has entirely different standards. The same could be said of Lisette and her husband. She is a Parisian woman married to a man who’s not from Paris and who therefore has different expectations. And when they’re all put back together in a confined space and forced to be a little more honest about their actions than they were prepared to be, well. That’s where the conflict in the movie comes from.

One of the things I find so interesting about this movie is that gender isn’t really as much of a consideration as one might expect from a movie made in the 1930s. Yes, the men do talk about their rights towards women and how they really should just be allowed to have all the women they want. But on the other side of it, the women are just as interested in having as many men as they want. Neither group comes out looking any more virtuous than the other and neither really comes out looking any worse. The only people who aren’t sleeping around as of the beginning are Christine and Schumacher (the game warden) and Schumacher’s the only one who doesn’t want to sleep around and he ends up shooting up the place. It’s an equal opportunity tangle.

It’s a beautifully made movie with an excellent cast and I did enjoy watching it for a second time. I’m so relieved that it didn’t disappoint me somehow. I do idly wish that I knew more about the time period and society on display because it’s clear that the movie is making points about it all and I’m missing them. But even without the specifics of the social commentary going on, it’s still an interesting and enjoyable movie.

Advertisements

October 7, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: