“I want to disappear down a hole.”
“So I no longer have to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.”
— Octave (Jean Renoir) speaking to Robert de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio) from The Rules of the Game (original French title: La Règle du jeu) a 1939 film about upper-class French society just before the start of World War II. It is often cited as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema. Presently it is listed in the British Film Institute’s 50 Greatest Films.
“I wanted to depict a society dancing on a volcano.”
— Jean Renoir
Throughout the entire last part of The Rules of the Game the camera acts like an invisible guest wandering about the salon and the corridors with a certain curiosity, but without any more advantage than its invisibility. The camera is not noticeably any more mobile than a man would be (if one grants that people run about quite a bit in this château). And the camera even gets trapped in a corner, where it is forced to watch the action from a fixed position, unable to move without revealing its presence and inhibiting the protagonists. This sort of personification of the camera accounts for the extraordinary quality of this long sequence. It is not striking because of the script or the acting, but as a result of Renoir’s half amused, half anxious way of observing the action.
No one has grasped the true nature of the screen better than Renoir; no one has successfully rid it of the equivocal analogies with painting and the theater. Plastically the screen is most often made to conform to the limits of a canvas, and dramatically it is modeled after the stage. With these two traditional references in mind, directors tend to conceive their images as boxed within a rectangle as do the painter and the stage director. Renoir on the other hand, understands that the screen is not a simple rectangle but rather the homothetic surface of the viewfinder of his camera. It is the very opposite of a frame. The screen is a mask whose function is no less to hide reality than to reveal it.
“you can’t simply watch it, you have to absorb it.”
Intro to Roger Ebert’s review:
I’ve seen Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” in a campus film society, at a repertory theater and on laserdisc, and I’ve even taught it in a film class — but now I realize I’ve never really seen it at all. This magical and elusive work, which always seems to place second behind “Citizen Kane” in polls of great films, is so simple and so labyrinthine, so guileless and so angry, so innocent and so dangerous, that you can’t simply watch it, you have to absorb it.