What makes "the rules of the game" great?
October 19, 2006 2:04 PM   Subscribe

How do I analyze the film "the rules of the game"?

I'm a college student in a Film aesthetics 101 class right now. For my midterm, I have to write 7-8 pages about Jean Renoir's film "The Rules of the Game." I've seen the film once, so far, but I have a copy to watch again and refer to.
I really enjoyed the movie, and it was a nice change to have something light and fun to watch, as opposed to say, "Last Year at Marienbad" or "the Battleship Potemkin".
But much as I enjoyed "Rules of the Game," I and most of my peers are a little unsure about how to get a full eight pages of mainly stylistic analysis (mise-en-scene, editing, sound, cinematography, etc) out of it. So, before I sit down to watch it again, I was wondering if you all had any suggestions for things I ought to look for or anything I ought to bear in mind.
I'm not looking for anything to plagarize, I'd just appreciate some new insights, a little guidance for my second viewing.

Also, much as I enjoyed, I'd love to hear someone explain why it makes it into the top five films of all time lists so often. Is it really THAT good?

Thanks
posted by njb to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bertolucci praises the film's serene conclusion (which he admits to having appropriated wholesale for 1900), Renoir's pioneering use of light, frame and focus, his warm, self-referential presence as a character ("He is the director, and yet he is unable to avoid the tragedy at the end").

"But," he says, "what really I find extraordinary is the hunting scene, because, since the film was shot in '39, there's the feeling of the war which is almost starting. You don't see people die but you see pheasants, rabbits… bang!"

The scene's eerie power, I suggest, stems also from the camera's lingering on the animals' death-throes. "There are a lot of details of shaking, little game dying," agrees Bertolucci, "and the intuition of what really is going on, or what will go on soon, is so strong that it is in a way stronger than seeing battle scenes in a film.' Does he think this was deliberate on Renoir's part? "We ask the prophets, are they deliberate, when they are making prophecy?" he replies. "It's something that he couldn't help doing.''
Film-makers on film: Bernardo Bertolucci
posted by matteo at 2:13 PM on October 19, 2006


why it makes it into the top five films of all time lists so often. Is it really THAT good?

because it is THAT good, yes, and because it is a brilliant prologue to the WWII carnage, and because it's more elegantly cruel than Grand Illusion, that humanist masterpiece. it's a merciless film. and it's about finis temporum, in a way, perfect for these apocalyptic times

and, if you like Visconti -- and, seriously, who doesn't -- well, we owe Visconti's career to Renoir, too
posted by matteo at 2:20 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yes, it is THAT good; it's my favorite movie of all time, and everything matteo said is true. Go find a copy of Alexander Sesonske's Jean Renoir, The French Films, 1924-1939 (Harvard University Press, 1980); he has 63 pages on La Règle du jeu, with lots of stills and detailed analysis. And watch it as often as you can; you'll notice more each viewing. That scene where Octave stands on the steps conducting a phantom orchestra sends shivers up my spine every time.
posted by languagehat at 2:47 PM on October 19, 2006


Oh, and I can understand how it would seem "light and fun to watch" after Potemkin, but the more you see it, the more that first impression will fade. It's actually a pretty grim movie (and was a flop in Paris when it opened in 1939, nearly causing Renoir to give up cinema—it got a second chance at the Venice Film Festival in 1959 and has only risen in stature since then).
posted by languagehat at 2:50 PM on October 19, 2006


I can't speak to the film itself, but when I did papers analyzing film theory in college, a technique I found helpful was to sit down with the film, pen and paper in hand, and pause the film at every change of scene or tempo or camera angle, and describe briefly what was happening in terms of story and plot, and also the relevant technique: tight framing to focus the action? Fast editing to move quickly or juxtapose ideas? Lighting, cinematography, mise en scene, the whole bit. It takes several hours, but at the end, you have a very nice set of observations that can easily be distilled down into a good theory paper. The important part, is coming up with a unifying argument that all of your observations will support. This argument should evolve naturally from your observations, and it never hurts to use the prof's lectures as a jumping-off point. Does the instructor favor historical observations, using context to inform the analysis, or does he favor more of a structural analysis, looking at the formal construction of the film as paramount? Does he focus on the plot, and the writing, looking at the sociocultural impact of the film, or focus more on writing and dialogue and reference to other texts? This should help guide the development of your argument.

But I found that the best way to write a good film paper is to spend as much time just describing the film, as you watch it. You'd be surprised how many students try to write a film paper without spending much time closely observing it.
posted by Eldritch at 2:58 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]


Criterion has an essay by Renoir expert Alexander Sesonske that might give you some good ideas.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 3:13 PM on October 19, 2006


(It's been about ten years since I wrote about }La Regle de Jeu}....and while methodical about my documents, I can't seem to find the 30 page paper I wrote.

Some things I remember:

Beyond the story/social criticism about society...(it's pre WWII!)

Cinematography...
It's all about deep focus.

Renoir felt that larger vistas + everything in focus, let the viewer settle on what they felt was attractive in the frame.

As I recall, it's also noting the pairs of people and their screen locations (whether they're at oppositional purposes etc.)

Editing.
Notice the hunting scene vs. the rest of the film. Seriously. Count the edits.

That should get you started.

Why is it so good? Because before this, none of it had really been done before. Citizen Kane is a great film. You see it today, not as much of a big deal, cause you've seen derivative works, parodies in both live action and cartoons. Similarly, Rules of the Game was really influencial in filmmaking.

Notice the party scene - where you go from the party to the help and back. No steadicam, big cameras. Hard planned work.
posted by filmgeek at 3:33 PM on October 19, 2006


I cry everytime someone mentions Marienbad as when I moved out of the house I shared with a few college kids, I didnt seem to have it anymore. I loved that movie so goddamn much. Come back to me Marienbad, I swear I'll never doubt your brilliance again.
posted by Brainy at 8:41 PM on October 19, 2006


I used to run into similar problems in my literature classes. If I just couldn't think of anything at all to write about, I simply picked a fight.

I'd find something the professor or the critics had said about the books, something with which I disagreed. Then I'd construct an argument demonstrating that they were full of shit. Presto: one essay.
posted by Clay201 at 1:24 AM on October 20, 2006


I would suggest renting the Criterion edition. It has some fantastic extra features, including a side-by-side analysis of the two endings of the film that should be of help to you. It's amazing to me to think that this film was so controversial when it was released that audience members tried to light the theatre on fire at the premiere.
posted by RibaldOne at 6:10 AM on October 20, 2006


Think about how the the women and men are represented differently, and about the interaction between them. I think one of the best scenes to analyze visually is when they go hunting.

When writing papers like this, it often helps to choose a single aspect of the film to focus on. For example, Did Christine and Andre ever have a romantic relationship? I'm sure you have an opinion about this, how was this opinion developed. Whatever aspect you find most riveting, the rest of your analysis of sound, light, etc. can be support for your claim.
posted by Packy_1962 at 6:57 AM on October 20, 2006


Thanks for all the advice. RibaldOne- whats the alternate ending?
posted by njb at 8:57 AM on October 20, 2006


Coincidentially enough, I had the exact same assignment - 7 to 8 pages critically reviewing The Rules of the Game. I'd be happy to email it to you if you need some inspiration.
posted by amicamentis at 9:52 AM on October 20, 2006


It isn't so much a different ending as a shorter last scene, where the edits impart different meaning to the motivations of the key characters. Books by Chris Faulkner (who does the side-by-side scene analysis in the extras) would be good research material.
posted by RibaldOne at 12:10 PM on October 21, 2006


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