Monday, May 18, 2020

The Rules of the Game

In Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939), Octave (played by the director himself) famously intones, “you see in this world there is one awful thing, everyone has his reasons.” The hunt plays a central role in the movie which takes place at La Coliniere, the country estate of the aristocratic Marquis de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio). What better place to explore the play of will and self-justified desire--with the great chain of being (from man to animal) that goes along with it. There’s a fine interplay between the hunt as social activity with conventions and mores and the fact that it has  consequences, sometimes tragic for both man and beast. The scenes of the chase itself are painterly with their exquisite landscape of fallen animals and predatory men. In fact, the theme of snaring a poacher plays a literal and figurative role in the film. The Marquis employs the technique on a local thief as he does on Alain Jurieux (Robert Toulain), the famous aviator who’s arrived at the estate to steal his wife, Christine (Nora Gregor). He traps the enemy by befriending him. Significantly in a play put on during a feast at the chateau Octave is dressed up as a bear, a costume he has trouble doffing. One is reminded of the senseless duel in The Three Sisters where the troubled Solyony shoots the Baron in a senseless duel, thereby cutting short Irina's chances for escape. The equally senseless death in the movie is dismissed as an accident, but the disquisition tips it’s hat to Beaumarchais and the 18th century comedy of love, albeit with a darker side. Nicholas Chamfort is cited at one moment in this study of human foibles, “Love as, it exists in society, is nothing but the exchange of two fantasies and the contact of two skins.” The fact that the Marquis is a Jew and that the movie was made on the eve of war adds another level to the play between the film’s frivolous exterior and its profoundly unsettling denouement.

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