The Rules of the Game (1939)

So many films get their inspiration from "The Rules of the Game", it's impossible to measure the impact that Jean Renoir's film has had. From "Gosford Park" (and by a further stretch "Downton Abbey") to "The Celebration"—we should just stop making comparisons here because they would go on for pages.
The film, which seems too cheerful for its own good, is mainly about a party at a house where a plethora of rich and vibrant characters go to mingle, sleep around, and have a good time.
The first scene of the movie introduces an aviator, André Jurieux, in love with a woman. He's so obsessed with this girl that he flies over the Atlantic, breaking Lindberg's record, and lands in France a hero. He's greeted by his friend, Octave (played by the director Jean Renoir), but not the love of his life, Christine.
Hell hath no fury like a man not greeted by his love—he announces his disappointment and anger at his love not being present to a radio interviewer, his words getting transported thousands of miles in a second.
But those spiteful sentences don't fall on deaf ears. No, interestingly enough they are heard by the woman who left him out to dry as it were. Christine, a married woman, though not to André.
Her lady in waiting is married as well, and both of these women find plenty of time to sleep with men who aren't their husbands. Monogamy is for nincompoops.
Right in these first scenes, we are presented with the idea of non-fidelity. There is not a character in the movie that is truly loyal to another person. The servants are loyal to their masters, but that is just a job to them. They never have love or respect and are hardly given the screen time to develop.
The real cast of characters, which assembles at a vacation home (much like the backdrop for a murder mystery, family drama, or farcical comedy) are mostly 'the elite'.
Though the film bills itself as just a movie and not a commentary on manners, it's very evident that Renoir, who wrote the script as well, is trying to poke fun at the aristocracy.
What's great about "The Rules of the Game" is that is functions perfectly without its commentary. You can view it as a movie with a deeper meaning, or just a movie—I'm sure you'll be equally entertained either way.
As André and Christine don't really get a chance to talk to each other and cousins, friends, and generals arrive at the house things start out fine but will take very interesting turns throughout the movie.
"The Rules of the Game" is a quick movie, not terribly long and sensationally fast paced.
I've been making a lot of references to "La Dolce Vita" in my reviews, probably because I recently saw the masterpiece. There's many scenes in "La Dolce Vita" where parties occur. These party sequences are almost incoherent, studying the movings of one man. In "The Rules of the Game" the parties occur as a collective. Everyone is impacted by the actions of everyone, minimally perhaps, but still moved.
Half of the film plays out like a slapstick comedy, the other half is darker.
The characters that Renoir creates are so lifelike, so memorable even when they appear on screen for less than a minute.
Hunting parties, drunken messes, and the like.
"The Rules of the Game" is great...and that's really all I can say about it.

Score: ★★★★

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