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  • Writer's pictureMiles Stephenson

The Rules of the Game (1939), Jean Renoir [5/5]

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

It's rare that a father-son duo becomes renowned in their respective crafts to the degree that impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his master filmmaker son Jean Renoir have done. A friend of mine who has a particular disdain for modern art says, "the visual arts go from Pierre to Jean!" implying, of course, that after impressionism, anyone interested in the visual mediums should look to film instead of post-impressionist painting. Pauline Kael wrote that Renoir's short film A Day in the Country (1946) "recaptures the Impressionist period; in tone, it accomplishes a transformation from light nostalgic comedy to despair." Today, Renoir is perhaps the most famous pre-French New Wave director in his country; he's the John Ford of France.

It is with this understanding that I watched Renoir’s The Rules Of The Game to see what all the hype was about. When the movie ended, it was my new favorite comedy of manners, an extremely clever and well-crafted drama about the odd yet charming bonds that connect people through a portrait of 1930s Euro haute bourgeoisie. “The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons," says lovably hopeless Octave, played by Renoir himself, a man bound by fraternal commitment but inspired by a conflicting romantic interest. Renoir sets out to explore all of these reasons, and show how our conflicts inspired by sexual insecurity, unrequited love, brotherly compassion, and more can be seen from a variety of angles that betray first impressions or simple moralizing.

Few movies have inspected the embarrassing, lovely, relatable, and unexplainable aspects of social groups with such intimacy as Renoir does in this weekend get together at a chateau where the romances and rivalries of French society members surface for all to see. “Today everyone lies. Pharmaceutical fliers, governments, the radio, the movies, the newspapers. So why shouldn’t simple people like us lie as well?” 5/5, a masterpiece of social satire and an extremely charming movie.

Miles Stephenson

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