The Rules of the Game
Jean Renoir’s 1939 scathingly satiric and slapstick-goofy The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jue) does so many things at once that its plot is almost inconsequential to the experience. But a thumbnail synopsis primes the palette: Some well-heeled men and their wives, lovers, and servants repair to the country chateau of Robert de la Chesnaye (the game Marcel Dalio) and his Viennese wife, Christine (Nora Gregor). And over the course of the weekend party’s costume ball, nighttime bedroom hopping, humoresque interludes, rabbit hunt, and cocktails a—whoops—dead body turns up, which really puts a cigarette in the glass of Champagne. Renoir simultaneously paints an elegy for the French ruling class’ decline on the eve of World War II as he allows their pompous attitudes and childish behavior to filet themselves. Most miraculously of all, the entire movie unfolds as a lyrical choreography for camera, as characters fluidly move into and out of the roles of scorned lover and cuckolded husband, master and servant, hunter and hunted, until dialogue lines and seemingly innocuous props becomes elusive symbols rippling out into a polyphony of meanings. Robert Altman’s entire career starts here.