Not all worthy films are recognized as such during their premiere issuances. The numbers are legion about movies taking decades before earning proper and due appreciation. This seemed particularly so for movies appearing just before the eruption of World War II.
Given the lingering trauma of the Great War and the Depression’s stubbornness it’s easy to imagine moviegoers everywhere were somewhat resistant to diversions which asked engagement rather than merely distracted.
Why bother thinking when charm was offered?
While Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and How Green Was My Valley remain lush, intriguing, and heartwarming efforts, respectively, several of the also-rans to these prize winners appear even worthier of the laurels than upon those honored by that era’s sentiments.
One of the least considered of this imminent war period happens to be a favorite movie of mine. So much so it’s one of the few that I routinely watch annually. Not so much it’s become a ritual with a prescribed moment and place (nor incense, oils, and animal sacrifices), but often around this time of year it will occupy a spot on my movie rental queue.
That title is Rules of the Game. The 1939 French feature contains none of the qualities of the aforementioned films. In fact throughout its nearly two-hour running time Rules of the Game fairly mocks conventions of a society believing itself genteel, polite, and virtuous. This alone should confirm why it’s my favorite foreign movie.
Polite I can manage. Virtue is overrated again and again.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of watching it, Rules of the Game is a terrific roundelay of relationships. Each of them demonstrates how impeccable manners should paper over our true hearts’ desires as well as our less sterling cravings.
Indeed, this movie impugns the veneer of civility. Which makes it all the more fun when that glaze is scraped off. Viewers then are allowed to feast eyes on what the bound by decency gang may observe as rot beneath.
Despite, oh, misbehavior occasioned by the human condition, propriety must be maintained. Or put less prosaically, while everybody may know, none should remark. Doing so breaches the established compact. Those who fail heeding the rules are paid by fate.
Initially, Rules of the Game draws on France’s tradition of drawing room comedies. In fact a maxim in the opening credits by La Rochefoucauld presents the theme about to be unspooled. Beginning in Paris and later fully transpiring among the environs of a countryside chateau, this sealed yet doomed world draws generously from expected purloined kisses, leisurely, scheduled trysts, silly amusements, not to mention witty and thankfully cruel epigrams.
Snatches of Mozart simply increase the civilized ambiance.
However, Rules of the Game concludes in a manner harkening further back to antique Greek drama. They who scribed those plays and their audiences would appreciate how the goodness of the lone, brave, naïve personage could not spare him from what destiny had designed.
Indeed, he who pays is the sole character whose indiscretion is bald-faced honesty.
And though the waters have been substantially roiled, in the end a resumed placid surface belies nearly all which has occurred. Almost in the same manner as the Second World War would roughly erase these frivolous hours.