The Rules of the Game (1939) – Ace Mini-Review

La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game)
Starring: Dalio, Nora Gregor, Jean Renoir
Written by: Jean Renoir, Koch
Directed by: Jean Renoir
France, 1939

How good is this movie?

The romantic entanglements of a group of shallow rich people and their equally shallow servants. The characters all have their roles – faithful wife, trusting husband, impetuous lover, flirtatious maid, platonic best friend – but each one also deviates from that role at least once. In the end, everyone seems to be playing a different game and playing by their own rules.

How ace is this movie?

One of the male guests is clearly coded as gay, but there are no candidates for potential aceness. On the contrary, love – specifically romantic, sexual love – is the chief concern of all the major characters. The film pokes fun at them, particularly the naïvely entitled André and the patriarchally territorial Schumacher. But it offers little hope of anyone behaving differently.

Christine, as a foreigner, does not understand the “rules” of French society, particularly the ones regarding friendship. She sees her relationship with André as platonic, and is unnerved by his romantic persistence. Octave has to explain to her that she cannot be as freely affectionate with other men as she is with him. When she asks Lisette if she believes in male-female friendship, the maid replies that it is as unlikely as “the moon at midday!”

For a while, Christine rejects this erotonormativity, yet she herself seems to succumb to it by declaring her love, first for André, then for Octave. Has she consciously chosen to play the game of romance as the only way of surviving in French society? Has she unconsciously absorbed so many erotonormative messages that she is incapable of imagining her friendships with men as anything other than romances? Is she simply desperate to escape from her stifling situation? Or are both confessions completely sincere? We are never told. Christine’s real desires remain opaque – not least, perhaps, to Christine herself.

Octave similarly claims to have nothing but platonic feelings for Christine, and is initially set up as a perennially single, promiscuously flirtatious, universal friend. He acts as confidante and intermediary between André, Christine, and Robert, but remains aloof and apart from their love triangle. Yet he, too, eventually succumbs to the romantic imperative, becoming just another suitor to Christine.

Ironically (in a film that critiques class relations) the closest thing to a non-sexual love story may actually be Lisette’s devotion to her mistress. In perhaps the film’s acest moment, both Lisette’s husband and lover are chagrined to realise that she has chosen “Madame” over them. Whether her motives are primarily sentimental or pragmatic, Lisette at least clearly cares about something other than sexual love.

3.5 Stars; 3 Aces

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