La Regle de Jeu (“The Rules of the Game”, Jean Renoir 1939)

La Regle de Jeu

Proving that it’s not just the English that valued the “stiff upper lip”, we have this gem from pre-war (just) France, in which the household of a wealthy aristocrat go away to his country house for a weekend of sexual intrigue. Robert de la Cheyniest is trying to get rid of his mistress, having been touched by his wife Christine’s refusal to enter an affair with a celebrated aviator, Jurieux. Jurieux’ friend Octave, who loves Christine himself though he’s having an affair with her maid, Lisette, manages to get an invitation for Jurieux to the weekend and Christine, who already has to face some prejudice as an Austrian in inter-war France (the background to this, the “Crisis” of 1939 permeates this film) will face more temptation and confusion.

This kind of plot could be the template of a Woody Allen film, and there are a few laughs to be had but it is mostly played straight, as is the sub-plot of Lisette, who has her own affairs and secrets. It is striking that this is very natural and underplayed. There are moments of high drama and moments of farce but the overall feel of the film is of a real situation and so this film dates pretty well.

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