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Past Films

The Rules of the Game (1939)

  • Starring: Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost
  • Director: Jean Renoir
  • Language(s): French, German, English
  • Genre(s): Comedy, Drama
  • Rating: NR
  • Running Time: 110 min.

Essential Janus Films
This new quarterly series showcases the “essential” films everyone should see on the big screen. For each month-long program, we’ll screen five films organized by one of the following themes: directors, actors, genres, and eras/movements.

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Janus Films is the pre-eminent distributor of classic foreign films in the United States. Founded by two Harvard students in 1956, Janus Films was one of the first distributors to bring what are now regarded as the masterpieces of world cinema to American audiences.

La Regle Du Jeu (1939) now often cited as one of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu/Rules of the Game was not warmly received on its original release in 1939: audiences at its opening engagements in Paris were openly hostile, responding to the film with shouts of derision, and distributors cut the movie from 113 minutes to a mere 80. It was banned as morally perilous during the German occupation and the original negative was destroyed during WWII. It wasn’t until 1956 that Renoir was able to restore the film to its original length. In retrospect, this reaction seems both puzzling and understandable; at its heart, Rules of the Game is a very moral film about frequently amoral people.

Film Summary: A bourgeois life in France at the onset of World War II, as the rich and their poor servants meet up at a French chateau.

"The word "Mozartean"... gets thrown around a little too eagerly by critics, but one movie, as almost everyone agrees, deserves this supreme benediction -- Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game."
- David Denby, New Yorker
"The mobile camera seems to be a member of the party, as it follows the almost balletically choreographed movements of the cast. The effect for the audience is transcendental. We are watching life at its messiest, unfolding at its most beautiful."
- Desson Thomson, Washington Post
"There are about a dozen genuine miracles in the history of cinema, and one of them is Jean Renoir's supreme 1939 tragi-comedy The Rules of the Game."
- Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
"What ultimately defines the film, what makes it unforgettable, is its tragic gravity."
- Mark Feeney, Boston Globe
"[The film] is a comedy, a tragedy, a portrait of class manners, a love story of touching caprice (who will Nora Grégor's Christine fall for? Whoever woos her at the right moment), and far and away the cinema's greatest midsummer night's dream."
- Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
"The film was withdrawn, recut, and eventually banned by the occupying forces for its "demoralizing" effects. It was not shown again in its complete form until 1965, when it became clear that here, perhaps, was the greatest film ever made."
- Top Critic Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
"Like the very greatest artists in all media, Renoir was able to transcend his own perspective, his own prejudices, and glimpse something of the terror and wonder of human life, the pain of misapplied or rejected love, for rich as for poor."
- Andrew O'Hehir,
"So simple and so labyrinthine, so guileless and so angry, so innocent and so dangerous, that you can't simply watch it, you have to absorb it."
- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"A deeply personal statement of unusual richness and complexity."
- Howard Thompson, New York Times