The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

I’m clueless about the greatness of The Rules of the Game

with 22 comments

OK. I’m not going to say “the emperor is naked”. I really won’t. I put all of the blame on myself, so there’s no need for you to get infuriated by what I’m going to say now.

I know there are many of you who have a lot more knowledge about the film medium than I have. Maybe you’ve attended some film classes where you’ve analyzed every single shot of the film I’m going to talk about. You might very well regard it as a revered deity in the temple of cinema, and who am I to come here and tell you anything else?

Everyone loves The Rules of the Game. Everyone but me. It ended up as #4 in the recent Sight & Sound poll. And over 800 critics can’t possibly be wrong. TSPDT puts it even slightly higher, at #3.

Just think of it! How many movies have been made since the birth of cinema? Thousands and thousands and yet thousands. And Rules of the Game is on third place! It should be a mighty good movie, shouldn’t it?

In case the aggregated critic lists hadn’t convinced me about its greatness, there were a ton of quotes by famous directors on the DVD cover who assured me that this was a film I really had to watch.

Bernardo Bertolucci claimed it was the best movie he’s ever seen. Truffaut said it’s “The bible for all true film lovers. This is the movie of movies”. Robert Altman had learned how to make film from it and Paul Schrader witnessed that it was “quick, spiritual, innovative and entertaining. For me there’s no better film”.

How sad, how embarrassing on my part that I couldn’t see what was so great or fun or entertaining.

I saw some upper class people assembling at a castle where they alternately go on rabbit hunts or pursuit their objects of desire of the opposite sex. Occasionally their servants did similar things, although they used traps instead of guns for killing the rabbits. I was waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, something dramatic. But when it finally did, it was quite anticlimactic.

Plucked eyebrows

Three thoughts crossed my mind as I watched it:

  1. The camerawork was odd with a lot of shots taken from a very low angle pointing up to the sky. If it was good or not I’m not I’m not sure, but it was noticeable.
  2. Everyone in aristocracy had plucked eyebrows. The women’s eyebrows were most extreme, but the men plucked their eyebrows too. Was it fashionable at that time?
  3. Back in the 30s people didn’t object to harsh treatment of animals in film recordings.  Poor rabbits.

I didn’t laugh, I didn’t cry, I didn’t get pulled into the world of those people. It just didn’t grab me, despite the fact that I’m usually a sucker for movies about upper-class people moping around at castles, being miserable under the watching eyes of their servants.

I know this film comes with a story. Apparently it caused an outrage by the theatre audience, was later on stopped by the censorship and then banned by the nazi occupants of France. For years it was believed lost to the world until someone found a few hidden copies in the 50s, which were saved and restored.

But a good back story isn’t a guarantee for a good movie. There must be something about this film that I’m blind to – something that has charmed hundreds or even thousands of critics over the world.

If you’re one of the lovers of this movie, please help me out. Tell me what’s so great about it and help me open my eyes. I’d much rather be on the winning team, cheering for the success of a beloved film, than sitting in the corner of the clueless where I’m dwelling at the moment.

The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu, Jean Renoir, FR, 1939)  My rating: 1,5/5

Written by Jessica

August 21, 2012 at 1:00 am

22 Responses

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  1. DEEEEEEEP focus.

    Every character in the film has their own agenda, and they all hold true to it throughout the story. The idea is that if you pick one character and watch just them the whole time, that they can often be seen far in the background of the scene chasing whatever metaphorical rabbit they’re after.

    No film before this dared to have so many pieces on the board at once, and any that came close didn’t have the stones to keep them all in focus at once.

    It’s a film that rewards multiple watches like few others.

    Ryan McNeil

    August 21, 2012 at 1:38 am

    • That explains why it felt pretty messy to me. 🙂 I can imagine it helps watching it again – possibly with a commenting track to help. But to be completely honest I can’t imagine myself watching this again anytime soon. I just have too many unwatched movies that will take priority.


      August 21, 2012 at 7:46 am

  2. I happen to love this movie, but I can understand your feelings. I think it really helps to rewatch it. I think one of the things I love is the way the movie introduces all of these disparate plot strands, which then intertwine masterfully in the final party sequence. Also, I think one of the reasons it’s so respected is that much of the camera-work influenced Gregg Toland’s photography for Citizen Kane

    Dave Enkosky

    August 21, 2012 at 11:53 am

    • I can definitely agree about the camera work. I had no previous knowledge about this movie, apart from the exclamations on the cover. But you didn’t need to have it pointed out to you to notice it.

      I just feel that there are other, more modern aristocracy/servants movies that I’d rather revisit than thisone. Gosford Park. The Remains of the Day. Not to speak of Brideshead Revisited, one of my favorite TV series ever, which pictures the misery of aristocracy in a much more engaging way.

      But kudos to you for managing to appreciate it!


      August 21, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  3. Ryan and Dave nailed it, and you touched on it in your article- the camerawork, which impacted Citizen Kane (amongst others).

    Though to be completely honest, I’m a much, much bigger fan of Renoir’s Grand Illusion. I even like La Bête Humaine more, although it’s not nearly as technically sound.


    August 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    • I can figure it helps if you’ve got more of a grip of film history than I have. I don’t care particularly much for the history of movies. I just watch them and enjoy them, regardless of age or status as “masterpiece” among critics.

      I haven’t seen Grand Illusion. I guess I’ll come to it at some point, though I’m not in any rush to see more Renoir after this experience.


      August 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm

  4. Great post 🙂 Your honesty is refreshing. As you’ve stated a few times before, sometimes it’s difficult when you can’t love a revered movie or a classic, but you shouldn’t feel bad about it. No movie is for everyone.


    August 22, 2012 at 4:20 am

    • Thanks Fernando! I hope I don’t come out as a hater of old films, because I’m not. it’s just that I don’t autumatically fall in love with anything that is highly regarded by critics.


      August 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      • No, I get it. It’s good that you don’t automatically like it because it’s adored by critics. It shows that you have your own point of view.


        August 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm

  5. I really like this movie though I think to call it one of the best films of all time is a little stupid. Renoir’s GRAND ILLUSION and A DAY IN THE COUNTRY are both miles better. Those two films I love and adore with all my heart. THE RULES OF THE GAME I don’t. But Renoir is pretty amazing and does know how to make a film.


    August 22, 2012 at 8:16 am

    • OK, I’ll remember those titles, though I’m not in any hurry to see more Renoir films at the moment.


      August 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      • Believe me, you will love A Day in the Country. It’s only 40 minutes long and it’s nothing short of delightful. Such a simple story but so beautiful and well-told. I adore it.


        August 22, 2012 at 12:28 pm

  6. I’ve never heard of this movie and hadn’t seen it and I guess I have to check it out if so many critics like it…we’ll see what I think of it 🙂


    August 22, 2012 at 11:44 am

    • I’m looking forward to see what you’ll make of it. Perhaps you’ll notice something I didn’t see.


      August 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm

  7. If you want some really fun Renoir (that doesn’t have any “best movie ever” baggage) give LA CHIENNE a try.


    August 23, 2012 at 8:24 am

    • OK. I think some time will have to pass before I check Renoir again, but I’ll remember it.


      August 23, 2012 at 8:46 am

  8. […] that were highlighted on the Sight & Sound list yet? Jessica has, and actually came away from THE RULES OF THE GAME somewhat […]

  9. I’m with you on this one. I actually fell asleep the first time I tried to watch this. In my shallow view, one of the ‘greatest films of all time’ shouldn’t require a complete knowledge of film history, nor multiple viewings to fully appreciate.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    August 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    • Thank you Bonjour Tristesse! Knowing what a cinephile you are I feel a little better about not getting the greatness of this one. I too had to struggle a bit to keep up my attention level.


      August 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm

  10. So I just watched this for the first time, and boy are our opinions different. I couldn’t turn away from it.

    One aspect of the film that I didn’t write about in my own review is the disconnect with the image multiple men seem to have of Christine and her really rather drab reality. It’s almost as if she is something to attain because of what she represents, not because of what she is, which is ultimately a sort of dull, plain woman. She’s a prize they all want, and she’s also a prize not worth having.

    There’s just so much here.


    September 13, 2012 at 7:33 am

    • You know, a sign of how unremarkable I found it was that I had forgotten everything about the plot until I read your recap of it in your review. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t remember what it was about Christine. I guess memory has mercy with you when you really don’t like a movie, helping you to put it behind you.

      Mind you, farce has never been one of my favorite genres. Perhaps that also drags it down to me.

      I would lie though if I said that you’ve convinced me to give it another chance. I might give Renoir another chance though. Grand Illusion has been recommended to me.


      September 13, 2012 at 7:44 am

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