I’m in this morning’s Wall Street Journal with a tribute to my favorite movie, now out on DVD:
“The Rules of the Game” is the greatest movie ever made–but it doesn’t act that way. For much of its 106-minute length, Jean Renoir’s masterpiece, filmed in France on the eve of World War II, plays like a chic bedroom farce in which a group of well-to-do Parisians spending a weekend in the country seek to sleep with persons not their spouses. Only toward the end does it become fully clear that high comedy is about to precipitate into violent tragedy, and that Renoir’s true purpose (as he later acknowledged) was to portray a society he believed to be “rotten to the core.” Small wonder that the film’s 1939 premiere sparked a near-riot. The audience must have felt as if it had been slapped in the face. “The truth is that they recognized themselves,” Renoir explained. “People who commit suicide do not care to do it in front of witnesses.”…
One can never see a film like “The Rules of the Game” often enough. Indeed, I have returned to it more than once at times of great personal stress. I watched it, for instance, not long after 9/11, knowing that recent events would have cut yet another facet in its jeweled surface, and as I watched it yet again in the Criterion Collection’s DVD version, I realized that I was seeing a requiem not merely for France but for Old Europe, exhausted by modernity and willing to pay any amount of Danegeld in order to be left alone.
No link, so go buy a copy of the Journal and turn to the “Leisure & Arts” page. I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who don’t know that The Wall Street Journal has an arts page–and a damned good one, too. Believe it or not, the Journal isn’t for rich people only, or even primarily.