Rules of the Game, The / Régle Du Jeu, La (1939)

Rules of the Game, The / Régle Du Jeu, La (1939)

“Some people are really clumsy with their guns.”

When a pilot (Roland Toutain) lands in Paris after a trans-Atlantic flight, he publicly laments the fact that his lover (Nora Gregor) is not there to meet him. Meanwhile, Christine (Gregor) is preparing for a visit with her husband (Marcel Dalio) to their country villa, accompanied by her loyal maid (Paulette Dubost), whose husband (Gaston Modot) is the villa’s gamekeeper. When Christine’s long-time friend Octave (Jean Renoir) arrives at the villa with heartbroken Andre (Toutain), romantic hijinks quickly ensue — including Christine discovering that her husband has been having a long-time affair with a family friend (Mila Parely), and Lisette (Dubost) being pursued by an amorous poacher (Julien Carette).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bourgeois Society
  • Class Relations
  • French Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Romantic Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this classic film by Jean Renoir is “set up as a standard French bedroom farce”: “many guests gather for a weekend of partying and hunting at [a] country chateau,” but the “affair deteriorates” as Dalio has a “knockabout fight with the hero aviator” (Toutain), and the gamekeeper (Modot) “races through the house trying to gun down the poacher-turned servant (Julien Carette) who has captured” the heart of his wife (Dubost).

Peary points out that “as the men fight over the women, the women’s attentions turn elsewhere” and that “the slapstick nature of foolish men going at each other is diversionary, meant to seem like a counterpoint to [the] earlier brutal rabbit-pheasant hunt.”

He argues that “Renoir intended to present us with several [types of] romances that [the] French have pride in,” including “a hero who runs off with a lonely married woman whose rich, unfaithful husband was undeserving of her.”

However, the “surprisingly bleak, cynical ending” shows us that “for those who are driven by hearts and emotions, there is tragedy — those who survive unscathed are those sly devils who have money or those stupid brutes who have guns in their hands.” Peary finishes his review by noting that while this is “regarded as Renoir’s masterpiece,” it’s “not for all tastes (including [his] own) despite interesting themes.”

I think I’m a slightly bigger fan of this darkly satirical romantic farce than Peary. I appreciate Dalio and Gregor’s performances as a couple who clearly understand the spirit of their marital arrangement:

… and Dubost as a romance-loving maid who confidently asserts, “My husband’s no trouble” (in terms of her having casual lovers on the side), yet comes to a rude awakening about the depth of his jealousy. The hunting sequence is keenly handled, both in terms of showcasing class relations and in setting up a key narrative turning point:

Given how many guns are waved around by dozens of individuals, we know that one will eventually — as Chekhov dictates — go off (and not simply to kill a rabbit), but we’re kept in suspense about when and how this will happen. Meanwhile, slapstick and lighthearted fun are expertly mixed with pathos and — as Peary notes — tragedy.

Note: Be forewarned that casual racism and antisemitism are present to an extent that was likely (sadly) common for the time.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marcel Dalio as the Marquis
  • Nora Gregor as Christine
  • Paulette Dubost as Lisette
  • Jean Bachelet’s cinematography

  • The memorable hunt sequence

Must See?
Yes, as an enduring classic by a master director.


  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Rules of the Game, The / Régle Du Jeu, La (1939)

  1. Not must-see.

    The first time I saw this film, I couldn’t see why it was held in such high regard. Now that I’ve seen it again, I still don’t see why it’s held in high regard.

    I find it quite tedious.

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