My Introduction to a Series of Essays on The Rules of the Game

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“The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.”—OctaveThe Rules of the Game

Perhaps no other line in La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) acts as a fairer summation of the movie’s plots and themes as this one, spoken by Octave, the intervening old man in a complex game of youth, love, and social impetus.  It is only fitting, in a meta-filmic sort of way, that Octave is played by the film’s writer, producer, and director, the man that most would consider the greatest of all French auteurs: Jean Renoir.  It’s like the author’s own film commentary, nestled into the screenplay itself, cozily and conveniently. Continue reading

Grand Illusion (1937)

Where Jean Gabin portrayed a doomed working class hero in Le jour se lève, in Grand Illusion (La grande illusion), he played perhaps the most hopeful symbol of the victorious proletariat that French Poetic Realism would ever come to offer.  Grand Illusion uses his character as but one of several others showing the disintegration of the old world, and the rebuilding of a new one after the earth-shattering imbalance of World War I.  It tells the story of humanity, divided vertically by borders and divided horizontally by social class.  It tells the story of the war that shattered these distinctions: gone were the days of gentleman’s battles, glorious deaths, and the rules of the game.  A new world order, one more unified in both suffering and success was being born.  Out of this carnage and pain could come a new type of freedom, one both symbolic and practical, one that would elevate the lower class and destroy the arbitrary divisions that threatened humankind. Continue reading

Le jour se lève (1939)

“A killer! Now there’s something to gossip about! Sure, I’m a killer, but killers are a dime a dozen! They’re everywhere! Everyone kills! They just do it quietly, so you don’t see. It’s like sand. It gets deep inside you.”

So exclaims Jean Gabin’s famous proletarian hero from his apartment balcony to the curious masses below in Marcel Carné’s 1939 masterpiece, Le jour se lève.

Many critics, when asked which movie acts as the quintessential example of film noir, would say The Maltese Falcon. When asked which film most exemplifies the precepts of the screwball comedy, many experts would likely tag It Happened One Night.  When it comes to the American Western, they likely cite Stagecoach.  Well, in my opinion, if you were to ask which film most embodies the general characteristics, images, and ideas of French Poetic Realism, the answer would be  Le jour se lève. Continue reading

L’Atalante (1934)

“What?  You closed your eyes?…Don’t you know you can see your beloved’s face in the water?…It’s true.  When I was little, I saw things like that.  And last year, I saw your face in the water.”

Could it be that simple, to just open your eyes?  Certainly not, but there is certainly something magically simple about love.  In all its frustrating complexity, it never deviates from the simple constant of feeling. Continue reading