The Rules of the Game – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #216 (2011 Release) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
November 24, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Jean Renoir’s failed masterpiece of 1939 has become one of the greatest films ever created of all time. The 106-minute 1959 re-release of “The Rules of the Game” is digitally restored, remastered and in Criterion Collection fashion, loaded with special features. Highly recommended!
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TITLE: The Rules of the Game – The Criterion Collection #216 (2011 Release)
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1939
DURATION: 106 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Monaural in French with English Subtitles, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: November 15, 2011
Directed by Jean Renoir
Scenario and Dialogue by Jean Renoir
Written by Carl Koch
Cinematography by Jean-Paul Alphen, Jean Bachelet, Jacques Lemare, Alain Renoir
Edited by Marthe Huguet, Marguerite Renoir
Production Design by Coco Chanel
Nora Gregor as Christine de la Cheyniest
Marcel Dalio as Robert de la Cheyniest
Julien Carete as Marceaux
Roland Toutain as Andre Jurieux
Gaston Modot as Edouard Schumacher
Jean Renoir as Octave
Paulette Dubost as Lisette
Mila Parely as Genevieve
Odette Talazac as Madame de la Plante
Claire Gerard as Madame de la Bruyere
Pierre Magniere as Le General
Eddy Debray as Corneille
Anne Mayen as Jackie
Lise Elina as Radio Reporter
Widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir’s masterpiece The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu) is a scathing critique of corrupt French society cloaked in a comedy of manners. Although the original negative was destroyed during World War II, this edition features the fully reconstructed version embraced by audiences and critics around the world as a timeless representation of Renoir’s genius.
It was 1939 and World War II and the Nazi Germans was coming. What does director Jean Renoir (“The Grand Illusion”, “The River”) do? He creates a film titled “La Regle du jeu” (The Rules of the Game) that is part of an adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s “Les Caprices de Marianne” and a film that was so far ahead of its time, it received an audience reaction that the filmmakers nor the crew/talent were expecting.
When the film was screened in front of audiences in Paris, the controversial film was boo’ed, led to fights in the theater and people burning their newspapers and leading theater owners to demand that Renoir cut the film. The 94-minute film that was screened in theaters, then became 81-minutes and unlike “Grand Illusion” which lasted three months in theaters, “The Rules of the Game” lasted only three weeks. It was the worst reception that Renoir had ever had for a film and was considered a massive failure. The upper class had an incredible disdain because of the actions of the characters in the film and because the film was a comedy that turns tragic, it was a film that defied normal standards of how storylines of films were at the time.
World War II came, Renoir fled to Rome (since he was a target by the Nazi’s) and as for the film, it was banned by the French government. When the film was sealed in a room with other films, because of World War II, that room was bombed and the original 94-minute cut of the film was destroyed.
And decades later, when two cinema fans Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand wanted to fix the film back to its 94-minute glory, despite the original film being destroyed, the duo worked on the prints and compared with the 81-minute version. And lo and behold, canisters of the unedited footage of the film were found and when the two were done, a 106 minute version was created and is the version of the film that the world has seen. With the French New Wave in full force in France, many film critics, filmmakers and cinema magazines have called “The Rules of the Game” as one of the best films created of all time.
It was a film that was ahead of its time when released in theaters that was jarring to the audience but for the young and upcoming filmmakers who had experienced the back in 1939, the film was nothing like they have ever seen in their lives and help shape French cinema during the 1950′s and 1960′s.
“The Rules of the Game” is a film about eight individuals. The film begins with aviator Andre Jurieux (played by Roland Toutain) landing at Le Bourget Airfield. Hailed as a hero by his countrymen for crossing the Atlantic on his plane, unlike other pilots who would be happy about their conquering of such a feat., that is not how Andre feels. Andre hears from his good friend Octave (played by Jean Renoir) that the woman he did this challenge for, Christine, has not shown up to greet or congratulate him. He did this only for her and because she is not there, it is the most disappoint day of his life.
Andre is so devastated by this and even one time, he crashes his car in such a depression that Octave knows that he must do something. So, Octave decides to help his friend by visiting Christine (played by Nora Gregor). Christine is a socialite, married to the rich Robert de la Cheyniest (played by Marcel Dalio). Octave begs Christine to see Andre because of his current state and he later begs Robert to make it happen and thus a planned party is created to welcome the hero Andre after his aviation accomplishment. We learn that both Octave and Christine grew up with each other and she wants to see her dear friend happy.
We are then introduced to Christine’s maid Lisette (played by Paulette Dubost) who loves working for Christine and is married to Schumacher, the gamekeeper at the country estate.
As people come to party and stay at Robert de la Cheyniest’s mansion, the group go on a hunt on the grounds for rabbits and birds. As Schumacher checks out the traps on the grounds, he encounters a poacher named Marceau (played by Julien Carrette) who is trying to steal the rabbit. Schumacher is angered and when Robert de la Cheyniest discovers the two arguing, instead of kicking him off the grounds, he hires him as a servant. And during this hunt for animals, we learn about “The Rules of the Game”.
We are then introduced to other characters and we see that Robert de la Cheyniest is having an affair with Genevieve de Marras (Mila Parely), Christine has her affairs with other men, Lisette is now enamored with Marceau (which Schumacher has a feeling that there is something going on with his wife and the servant) and as for Andre, he is introduced to Christine’s niece Jackie who starts to fall for him, but for Andre, he has his eyes only on Christine.
The film seems very complex and we see how there are sexual affairs that are happening with the key individuals, but when they are all together at the celebration and everything starts off with happiness and fun, the night ends with tragedy and life for some of these characters will never be the same again.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
Before I get into my review of the DVD, it’s important to note that in 2011, a Blu-ray release for “The Rules of the Game” was released. If you want the best clarity and detail of the film to date, definitely go for the Blu-ray release!
“The Rules of the Game” is presented in black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Many may wonder what is the difference between this 2011 version on DVD versus the 2004 DVD release. The answer is technology. With today’s 2011 technology as opposed to 2004, there are better hardware today that are used to remove scratches and dust but also for better sound remastering.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original negative for the film was destroyed during a World War II bombing raid. In 1959, with Jean Renoir’s approval, the movie was reconstructed by Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand, result in today’s renowned 106-minute version. In preparation for the original DVD release of “The Rules of the Game”, Criterion searched at length for a 35 mm fine-grain master processed directly from the negative of Gaborit and Durand’s reconstruction and one was finally located at the French film lab GTC in 2003.
Criterion Collection made a high-definition transfer of the fine-grain master created on a Spirit Datacine. Due to the nature of the reconstruction, which is comprised of elements from various sources, there are noticeable variations in quality, nonetheless, this version is made from the best existing materials. Thousands of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using MTI’s DRS both in the 2003 and 2011 editions of “The Rules of the Game”.
The Criterion Collection did a very good job on the remastering. Many times you can see the original footage (during the comparison footage) and you can see how much sharper and clearer the video is. The picture quality is not perfect as you do see some film warping, dust and scratches at times but considering the negative sources, it is to be as expected. The picture quality also appears much cleaner than the 2004 DVD release.
As for the audio, audio is Monaural French and the dialogue is clear. According to the Criterion Collection, the soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic audio track and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and hum were manually removed using ProTools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation. So, the 2011 edition definitely received another remaster using today’s 2011 technology versus what was available back in 2003.
Subtitles are in English.
“The Rules of the Game” comes with plenty of special features. Included are:
- Renoir Introduction – (6:30) Director Jean Renoir introduces the film and talks about how it was a failure at the theaters and how people reacted to it back then. Also, how he felt when the 106-minute cut of the film was screened at the Venice Film Festival.
- Audio Commentary - The audio commentary is not exactly filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s own personal comments but him reading the essay of Renoir scholar Alexander Sesonske, author of “Jean Renoir: The French Films, 1924-1939). Because the essay is timed with the film, Bogdanovich has to speed up the reading quite a bit. But it’s important to note that this is a reading of an essay but not a true audio commentary by Bogdanovich.
- Playing by Different Rules: Version Comparison - (13:05) Historian Chris Faulkner, co-author with Olivier Curchod of an annotated edition of the original shooting script shows a comparison between scenes from the 81-minute version of the film and the 106-minute version of the film and what was cut out in the short version of the film.
- Short Version Ending – (8:32) The ending to the 81-minute version of the film and showing how many scenes featuring Octave were removed.
- Scene Analysis – (5:28) Chris Faulkner, who has researched the film “The Rules of the Game” for the last 15 years recorded a commentary on selected scenes “Public and Private” (5:28) and “Corridor” (2:40) from the film.
- Jean Renoir, Le Patron – (31:13) Featuring a program from “La Rele et l’exception” produced in 1967 by Jacques Rivette for Cineastes de notre temps. Renoir discusses “The Rules of the Game” with Rivette and Andre Labarthe. Renoir discusses Munich and the war, shooting the film, casting the main characters, improvisation and the final scene of the film.
- Jean Renoir BBC Documentary – (59:58) David Thompson made a two-part BBC documentary on Jean Renoir back in 1993. The first part featured is about “From La Belle Epoque to World War II” and his upbringing up to his career through “The Rules of the Game” and the people in his life and how he managed to pay for creating his films.
- Production History: Chris Faulkner – (8:18) A video essay by “The Rules of the Game” historian Chris Faulkner who offers a condensed look at the history of the film, Renoir’s inception, production, and original release through its 1959 reconstruction.
- Production History: Olivier Curchod – (27:39) A new featurette for this 2011 release featuring N.T. Binh, film scholar Olivier Curchod expands on the the history of “The Rules of the Game”.
- Production History: Gaborit and Durand – (10:05) An excerpt from a 1965 television interview from “Les Ecrans de la ville”, Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand, the duo responsible for the reconstruction of the film discuss how it came about, what happened during reconstruction and more.
- Interview: Max Douy – (9:05) An interview from 2003, production/set designer Max Douy talked about how the film crew respected Renoir and trying to complete the film before World War II.
- Interview: Mila Parely – (16:17) An interview from 1995 produced by Jacques Motte for his documentary film “Histoires d’un tournage en Sologne” with Mila Parely. Mila who played the character Genevivie de Marras talks about working with director Jean Renoir and behind-the-scenes moments of “The Rules of the Game”.
- Interview: Alain Renoir – (18:18) An interview from 2003. Alain talks about his father and working on the set as an assistant cameraman on “The Rules of the Game”.
- 42-Page booklet – Featuring “Everyone Has Their Reasons” by Alexander Sesonske, “The Rules of the Game: Scenario” by Jean Renoir, Jean Renoir on “The Rules of the Game”, Henri Cartier-Bresson remembers, “Director’s Cut” by Bertrand Taverner, “In Truffaut’s Words” and “Tributes”.
“The Rules of the Game” is considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest films of all time. Ranked high by several film institutes and shown at film schools, the film was a bonafide flop during its theatrical run and only 20 years later, was the film truly appreciated and recognized.
The upper class and viewers of the film despised Renoir’s film as many felt it was a middle finger to the upper class, nor were cinemagoers expecting a tragedy when they thought the film would be a comedy. This is no different today especially how prestigious of a title this film has had since it’s 106-minute theatrical re-release back in 1959. Many viewers have approached the film almost similar to “Citizen’s Kane” questioning why this film is so highly regarded.
For one, people must recognized what Renoir created. During a time when many director’s were politically affiliated with the left or the right, most films favored the Burgeois. Renoir grew up with the rich courtesy of his famous father, painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This film was Renoir wanting to show what he has experienced with the upperclass. Men and women who had sexual liasons with other partners and things that are done without remorse. Needless to say, the upperclass nor was the French government enthusiastic about the film. They outright banned it.
Renoir created a film that featured beautiful cinematography, well-paced but it took the viewer from its comedic ties to an ending that shocked viewers to the point they were disgusted, boo’ed and threw items on the front of the screen because they were upset. How could a film that could have been happy and a have a happy ending not be happy? With World War II approaching and Nazi Germany, the French viewers had no tolerance for such a film during that time and unfortunately, because of its failure, Renoir moved to Rome and then to the United States knowing he would be targeted or used by the Nazi’s.
Bare in mind, this was before the French New Wave. Before Godard, Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer and others who would make their mark for their accomplishments for their works in cinema and doing their own thing. Going against what was normal in cinema and against what people typically expected. It was an exciting time in the 1960′s and these director’s praised the work of Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo.
For Alain Resnais and even Francois Truffaut, “The Rules of the Game” was significant as it showed them before their own careers of what cinema is capable of. In 1939, Jean Reno paid the price and although hailed for being one of the best masterpieces of all time, as much as Reno was happy, he paid the price. First, being forced to cut the film down to 81-minutes and then that version not surviving in the theater for a month and of course, losing the original cut of the film during World War II. It seemed too much but eventually he would rebound over a decade later when he worked on his first color film “The River”.
“The Rules of the Game” is a film that challenged social convention. In terms of cinematography, it was unique as lighting was timed, characters in the background walking and reacting are timed perfectly with the main talent seen on camera. Was this camera work inspirational to Orson Welles for “Citizen Kane”. Possibly. But technically, the film looked so free flowing and cuts were well-done. Call it avante-garde or call the film the inspiration for the French New Wave, this 106-minute version of the film is a version that people around that many French didn’t see.
A version that we get to see digitally remastered and restored and of course, with The Criterion Collection treatment, we get a lot of special features bundled with this release. It’s a fantastic release and its one of those films that may require several viewings but also helps to learn the backstory of the film and why it is so important in the history of cinema.
For those who owned the 2004 DVD release, many may wonder if the upgrade to the 2011 release is important? I do believe that the upgrade to the Blu-ray release is definitely worth it! But to upgrade from the 2004 DVD to the 2011 DVD, maybe and maybe not.
The main difference aside from the new technology used for remastering lies in the special features. Gone from this 2011 DVD release are the “Analysis of the Shooting Script” (text-based feature) and the “Tributes” (another text-based segment) but what you gain in this 2011 DVD release is the 27-minute Olivier Curchod Production History featurette. While I definitely would take a 27-minute featurette over a text-based special feature, it is all subjective to the viewer. But for the most part, this re-release was to bring “The Rules of the Game” for Blu-ray and for those who are new to Jean Renoir and don’t own a Blu-ray player, would get to enjoy the film via this new release.
I’m not going suggest you to watch or own this film because critics call it one of the greatest films of all time. But I do hope people watch this film, know its impact as a failed masterpiece in 1939, but then 20-years-later, becoming a golden masterpiece that was way ahead of its time and it took that long to be appreciated.
It’s quite interesting because Renoir and Orson Welles became good friends in Hollywood. Renoir told Welles that “an artist must be 20 years head of his time but it was harder for an artist of the cinema because the cinema insists upon being 20 years behind the public”. Like father, like son. Jean Renoir’s “La Regle du jeu” (The Rules of the Game) is a masterpiece and over 70-years later, is still on top of the list for many cinema polls as one of the greatest films of all time.
“The Rules of the Game” is highly recommended!
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