Old Game. Same Rules. Modern Players.

“Sacrilege” is a word which shouldn’t be spoken lightly. But it would be a sacrilege if some present-day filmmaker were to remake Rules of the Game.

There have been rumors which threaten what might result in this likely desecration. Thankfully for good sense and lack of financing, that possible nightmare still exists as a demented dream.

Revising it, though? Updating the story for us and our era? Perhaps a palatable possibility.

A French production, Rules of the Game premiered in 1939. Initial audiences received it unfavorably. Only postwar did the move become a justifiable classic cinema entry.

In 1939, insecurity and instability roiled France. Twenty years on, the nation had yet to recover fully from the Great War. Far right and far left political parties rent France. It had recently just barely overcome an immense fiscal scandal. Furthermore, across the Rhine, the Nazis were getting restless and restive.

The movie’s theme did not divert audience concerns through mindless entertainment. Though underpinned by elements of farce, its subject was quite serious. The rigidity of societal order.

Today, as doubtlessly also then, there were many who demanded the old strictures of society be crossed, if not blown apart altogether. Wise heads know that produces chaos. And a chaotic society is inefficient. Look at any sovereign nation once it endures upheaval and its aftermath.

Or on a smaller scale, any family sundered.

Not a love story per se but intimacies among the French upper class and members of its retinue swirl throughout Rules of the Game. As long as those involved practiced circumspection, the to-ing and fro-ing, the declarations of adoration, the trysts which resulted, never disturbed outward order.

Disingenuous as those who proclaim themselves entirely virtuous might find it, all that mattered in this set was appearances. Could the roundelay be performed adeptly? Could its audience look upon the exercise and award it highly?

Order allows societies to thrive. The communities which comprise societies dislike events and outbursts that jar routine and the complacency it nurtures.

Measured morality is a fine sentiment. Overbearing morality is inconvenient. Which is what Americans have. Derived from Europe as we are, ours remains a coltish and callow society. We haven’t yet developed the ability to differentiate and prioritize.

Didn’t Rules of the Game aptly reflect the sophistication the interwar French expected of the titled, the moneyed, and glamorous? Yes. On some level perhaps that’s what disturbed prewar audiences. Quite aware of what impended, viewers intuited this movie appeared at the wrong hour. The onscreen froth couldn’t have been appreciably digested when the pressures outside the cinemas’ walls and shadows menaced.

Seeing and hearing the recent contretemps of scorned American women, or women believing themselves scorned, my thinking turned to Rules of the Game. Americans, unlike their counterparts almost everywhere else in the world, have difficulty playing the above game. Similar to our nation’s men, don’t women here lack the sophistication, the inner strength necessary to dismiss the assignations of an occasionally wayward spouse?

Elsewhere both parties know these dalliances are trivial. A bit of afternoon delight or simply indulging in a “piece of strange.” These are harmless moments which sweeten and spice quotidian life.

Ideally the playthings thoroughly understand their precise roles. Temporary focus of sharp male gazes as they are, they’ll only enflame loins for briefly before that desire extinguishes. A smart mistress, sweetie, ah, “protégé,” will sock “daddy” for all she can before being reaching her expiration date and exiting the stage.

She won’t expect, no, demand, he chose between her and his wife. Delicious a cupcake as the other woman may’ve been, what sane man will upend his domestic order and find himself in the less-esteemed circumstances of the unwished-for “new”?

After all, what idiot marries his mistress? Enough of that and won’t life start getting expensive?

As previously mentioned, American women who’ve found their voices and raised women made Rules of the Game this post’s subject. Maybe it also helped that autumn finally arrived and it the best time of year to watch the movie. The season’s increasing crispness erases summer’s dreaminess and clears haze from sun-besotted romantics’ eyes.

It could have been any flibbertigibbet. There’s no shortage of them on tabloid TV programs. This one, though, has pursued a prominent American man with a relentlessness that might’ve made Ahab’s pursuit of Moby-Dick flighty by comparison.

Recent manifestations of women’s outrage at male predilections being downplayed or overlooked altogether have again emboldened her to revive allegations from her hoary thirties. If Scott Fitzgerald were alive today he never would’ve denied the possibilities of second acts in American Life.

Seen from a male point of view, her now nemesis laid on a line persuasive enough for her panties to succumb to gravity and drop. I’ve heard that’s a common occurrence in man/woman relations.

By God I hope I’ve contributed my fair share to that total!

I can only imagine the marvelous bullshit leading up to the initial carnal entwining then repeated insertions afterwards. Either thoughtlessly or with great calculation, doesn’t matter, just getting over counts, he probably invented blandishments instead of resorting to the usual tried and true utterances.

Both from Dawgpatch where somehow consenting adults engaging in carnal relations outside the bounds of wedlock demands Jimmy Swaggart-like atonement but intolerance gets a big ol’ “forgivable personal failing” pass, she likely thought their congress illicit – after all both were married to others – but he was so persuasive and the sex so damned satisfying. The poor woman probably felt bad for her husband. No. She probably felt worse for herself because after these hours of Seventh Heavens she’d return to a marriage bed that demanded all kinds of lies and fakery in order to maintain marital “bliss.”

Where isn’t there sin throughout the above paragraph?

Despite the rules, she was obviously clingy. Once they diverged, she became vengeful. That’s not how the game is played.

Over time, the woman’s former occasional scratch has become a celebrity. Renown as a philanderer certainly blunted many of the opinions maligning him as well as buffed his luster. Such accusations probably bolstered his standings among people who like charming and vigorous idols. It helped he was immensely successful during his era of radiating heat.

A lucky man, and aware of it, he married a brilliant woman. Better, she’s an understanding, shrewd, mature woman. Frenchwomen likely saw this American as a sister.

Unlike the vast majority of American wives whose husbands’ appetites insist they sample freely beyond the bounds of marriage, she looked at all the angles, then weighed pros and cons. Therefore, no harpy-like harpy-like vengeance. Again similar to Frenchwomen.

Instead of shrieking to the tabloids and seeking divorce, the wife just didn’t endure her husband’s infidelities. She gutted them out. Whether from truly believing in the vows she’d exchanged or calculating loss versus reward, she retained her composure against harshly speculating detractors.

The couple’s is a strange fidelity. One grasped only by them. Only in America do those outside strangers’ marriages possess intimate insight of these unions.

The wife repulsed and withstood attacks with a controlled coolness that astounded friends. Didn’t this further infuriate critics of both man and wife? More worldly Americans observed all this with wonder. A lot of them knew should they find themselves in the same tiger trap, they’d likelier crumble than endure, survive and thrive.

The scorn and embarrassment the dismissed mistress hoped heaping on them wilted. Yet like a bad moon, she arises now and then to burden the ears of an indifferent public. Seems she believes we can’t get enough of her humiliation.

An accepting public doesn’t even bother pitying the castoff. After all, she was only an interlude, not a whole escapade.

Rather we’ve come to see her as a nuisance. We wish she had accepted her fate … as we have. If only what she intended delivering visited her instead.

While not a remake exactly, what transpired above might serve as an outline, a vague outline, of a New World Rules of the Game. Unfortunately there’s no way an American version could be as clever as the source. Americans aren’t as eloquent or well-versed as the French.

Just look at how the 1983 dumbed-down remake of The Man Who Loved Women compares against the 1977 French original. Slapstick versus depth. Burt Reynolds expresses our rather frenetic nature regarding carnal relations; director François Truffaut rendered elegantly material which six years later a domestic studio broadly produced.

Poetry and philosophy might as well be listed as foreign languages in American high schools. Furthermore, we can’t maneuver through nuance, subtlety, archness, or drollery with the same easy skill as the French.

Nor can there be any epigrams in the revision’s prologue by La Rochefoucauld stating what underscores the film.

A tragic incident closes Rules of the Game. This also compels the ranks to coalesce.

In our own chaotic times, what sort of tragedy might firm lines among the same class today on this side of the Atlantic? Sacrificing a virgin could work, but where are such rarities to be discovered?

Once the modern denouement has arrived, as in the classic what follows is a wise somewhat caustic appreciation from an observer of this celebrity scene and its players. For our times it would issue from a woman of the doyenne variety. She may offer this maxim commending the couple:

“She doesn’t care where he eats his lunch. Just as long as he comes home for dinner.”

Couldn’t the above be a theme behind a country and western lamentation? A perfect companion to any American effort to have a Rules of the Game that reflects us today.

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