Day 111: La Régle du Jeu 1939 + I think I understand the rules but I don’t love the film

La Régle du Jeu 1939

I feel the need to watch this film again having read quite a bit about it and about Jean Renoir over the last few days. It’s #4 on the British Film Institute (BFI) Critics list, as voted by 846 critics, academics and film historians. In 1972, 1982, 1992 and 2002 it ranked #2. (Critics love it slightly more than the 358 directors.)

12% of critics voted for Régle in their Top Ten whereas 5% of directors voted for it, so, it is a film more beloved by critics than directors which is curious because the particular aspect that is so particularly respected and ground-breaking in 1939 is the directing and the use of screen space and deep-focus photography. As I gave up trying to work this out for myself – the first time I’ve done so in this project – and gone seeking answers, I’ve read four very good articles about it. I’ve also watched three other Jean Renoir films. My memory is that I’ve seen La Grande Illusion and Régle before, on television, as a teenager. I didn’t engage with either film then. This time around I loved Grande and still didn’t engage with Régle.

[I’ve noticed that about 10% of the 130 films critics and directors voted for, aren’t favoured by both. With Ozu’s Late Harvest, for example, 6% of critics voted for it; 1% of directors voted for it. Ozu’s Tokyo Story, however, ranking #3 and #1 received 12. 5% and 13.5% of the vote, respectively.]

“I think I understand the rules but I don’t love the film”

I suppose this is the personal aspect that we bring to our movie-watching experience. Not everything is us.

I loved La Grande Illusion, really enjoyed Boudu and Partie, and found a lot of Régle trivial, overplayed, needlessly obvious and manipulative, and I only liked two out of the nine main characters. (Maybe, that’s the point – that here Renoir left behind the optimism of his early films for something darker.)

It lacked the embracing warmth of the other three Renoir films I’ve watched, which are so happy and carefree despite the characters’ dire situation in two of them. The personal respect and love of life, despite their predicament, was the thing that spoke to me in Boudu, Grande and Partie. Here, only Lisette and Octave had a love of life and warmth. To a certain extent the fact Marceau was incorrigible brought life into the film.

I appreciate all the technical things that Jean Renoir achieved, and I acknowledge the clever subtext, using a weekend house party to describe all of French society, and the mingling of four or more different styles, which was possibly mind-blowing for 1939, but it’s all so one-dimensional. Almost every aspect is one-dimensional, unlike the other three films, which are rich on every level.

This is the first time in this 100 Greatest Films Ever project that I don’t agree with the overwhelming general agreement of a film’s greatness. I’m going to write my observations of why this is an important film in cinematic history, and an important film in Renoir’s output, but is not one of his best when taken as a whole. This flies in the face of everything accepted about this film’s greatness.

It’s an important film. I can see that. It’s history, its initial public rejection, and its reconstruction, are the more amazing aspect of this film’s existence.

However, something intrigues me about TIME Magazine’s Greatest 100 Films, compiled by Schickel and Corliss: neither La Grande Illusion or La Régle du Jeu are listed. Instead only one Renoir film appears: Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1935). Surely they didn’t argue over Grande or Régle and agree to select a third Renoir film. That has me intrigued.