Director: Jean Renoir
Writer: Jean Renoir & André-Paul Antoine
Cinematographer: Michel Kelber
by Jon Cvack
Rules of the Game was the first film I’d see by Jean Renoir, watching it in my French Cinema course back in college. These classes weren’t taught by film scholars, but by various humanities professors who had a great interest in cinema, while bringing their individual expertises to the discussion. Our Professor was an older woman, who had lived the majority of her life over in France. I recall how she did that strange pursing of the lips that I’d often see in French films, signaling a sign of certainty, confidence, and a bit of pretension.
Rules of the Game was a film that, like Citizen Kane, I knew was wildly popular though simply did not have the filmic knowledge or experience to fully appreciate. I thought it was a great film, and was excited to see Robert Altman’s loose remake with Gosford Park. Yet even that film I didn’t really love compared to his other work, until I watched it a few weeks ago, completely in awe of all I missed the first time with the story, characters, performances, and photography, knowing it was only by consuming more films that open those elements.
I loved Grand Illusion, I took a bit of time to get to La Bete Humaine ('38). I didn’t see The Lower Depths ('36) until much more recently. All these films had varying degrees of darkness to them, as though Renoir was looking at the some of the most frightening bits of humanity. When I went beyond those films I then came across The River ('51) and was blown away by the complete shift in tone, focusing on the beautiful and small, taking place in India, following a Colonial Family. Looking away from some of the inherent racist politics, it was entirely focused on a family and their lives within the exotic country, shot with such great respect and admiration by Renoir. It was clear there was another side to the man.
French Cancun wasn’t the most exciting premise - focused on the development and construction of Moulin Rouge, sounding like a cheesy American Musical ripoff. Instead we get what feels very much a reflection of Renoir’s own experiences as a stage and musical director. The story focuses on the rise of Moulin Rouge, following the various performers and business people involved, it also delves into the personal relationships between the characters in a very straightforward way.
Henri Danglard (Jean Gablin) is the owner of a cafe that’s experiencing financial troubles and tries to bring back the Cancan, eventually leading them to build Moulin Rouge. Him and his current paramour, Nola (Maria Felix), are each aging quick, and Henri’s not too anxious to give us his bachelorhood. Similar to The Great Beauty (2013; Sorrentino), he enjoys the wild life he lives, where each night is different and he’s never sure who he’ll meet. It was an honest look at a man that is at high risk to die alone as he’s unable to commit to any one woman, perpetually caught up in other affairs, such as when the new young and beautiful Nini (Francoise Arnoul) comes onboard. Although a musical, the movie contains strong and real characters, never feeling like they’re performing pointless exposition in order to get to the next musical number. It felt as though Renoir was willing to give us as much of himself as he was comfortable doing, setting it against a fun and exciting atmosphere, perhaps in order to provide us a glimpse into the reason why his life is lived the way it’s lived.
BELOW: A musical number that provides a great taste
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