Looking at Renoir’s ‘The Rules of the Game’ in the light of WWII
As I was writing about my second viewing of La Regle du Jeu (1939), I wondered what Jean Renoir would have known about the impending war in Europe. If he was writing the screenplay and filming in late 1938, and working on post-production in early 1939, what would he have known about Hitler’s developing plans for Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland?
I didn’t really have much of an idea about what the rest of Europe would have known about Hitler’s actions, particularly those countries which shared borders. If Renoir did know about the political events which were unfolding then it would have not only influenced his script for La Grande Illusion (1937), but also Régle.
If the newspapers in France were reporting the events in and around Germany, there may have been a general feeling of inevitability about war breaking out, if not in 1937, then in 1938 or 1939. If so, there could be a justification for a reading of the weekend house party in the Marquis’ country estate in Régle as an allegory for what would very likely happen if a second world war broke out.
Was Renoir aware for instance of Hitler’s flagrant breaches of the Treaty of Versailles, such as when he marched his troops into the Rhineland in March 1936?; that in February 1938, Hitler was trying to browbeat Austria into allowing Germany to annex Austria and that Hitler had his army doing maneuvers on the Austrian-Germany to intimidate them?; that on March 11 1938 he had amassed troops with the intention of invading the following morning unless Chancellor Schuschnigg agreed to cancel the national vote on March 13 on whether Austrians wanted to remain independent from Germany?; that Hitler couldn’t allow the vote to go ahead because if they voted for independence, then when German troops entered Austria it would be seen as an act of aggression?; that Hitler, at almost any cost, wanted the German army to enter Austria peacefully: if he was forced to invade Austria, the remaining members of the League of Nations may combine to go to war against him.
Göring and Schuschnigg argued over the phone throughout the day on 11 March, resulting in Schuschnigg resigning as Chancellor. Hitler’s demand was that President Miklas appoint the Austrian lawyer and Nazi-sympathizer, Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, as the new Chancellor. About six hours before dawn Miklas realised his position was hopeless and that German troops would invade Austria in the morning. Rather than submit his citizens to a war which Austria was not equipped to fight. He acquiesced and appointed Seyss as Chancellor. A few hours later the German army rolled into Austria and an invasion and occupation had occurred without a shot being fired.
18-months later when similar tactics failed against Poland’s government, Hitler was warned by Poland, France and Britain that if he tried to take Danzig, a free-city, they would resist. On 31 March 1939, British Prime Minister warned Hitler that if he invaded Poland, Britain and France would go to war with hm.
In October 1938, Hitler began planning to take over the rest of Czechoslovakia. After employing a series of his usual strongarm tactics, it culminated on 15 March 1939, with threats to immediately bomb Prague and invade the next morning. With the threat of total annihilation, Hitler manipulated President into signing a document receiving German’s troops peacefully, putting Czechoslovakia’s future in the hands of the German Fuhrer.