All posts tagged “jean renoir

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The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir (1939)

A dangerous discovery: The University library has the entire Criterion Collection available to stream. Suddenly these quiet summer afternoons in the office seem like golden opportunities to revisit old favorites.

It’s too bad that Renoir’s Grand Illusion isn’t available through this service, because it’s the natural accompaniment to The Rules of the Game. Both films are about the fragility, or maybe the elasticity, of the conventions, taboos, and mores which govern civilized activities, whether social (in Rules of the Game) or political (in Grand Illusion). To live rigidly within those boundaries, like a cow keeping its wary distance from the electric fence, is to be doomed to dreariness: a frigid marriage, moronic jingoism. But to flagrantly transgress them is to risk chaos, alienation. The authentic life, then, is lived with one foot on either side of on an impossible and invisible line hidden beneath the snow, as seen at the end of Grand Illusion.

The Rules of the Game is an iron fist in a velvet glove. The main action takes place at a country estate, where a bunch of aristocrats are spending the weekend. On the surface it looks like a charming upstairs/downstairs melodramatic farce, with slamming doors, midnight rendezvous, stolen kisses, jealous husbands. But there’s a hard edge under the fizz. The party goes out for a hunt and Renoir subjects us to a relentless sequence of rabbit after rabbit after rabbit being shot dead in the dirt. And in the end, innocence itself lies down with them.

Renoir, famously, called The Rules of the Game a war movie, and indeed the alliances and enmities of the feckless aristocrats and territorial servants who populate the film are easily understood as metaphors for the pettinesses which were, in 1939, about to destroy a civilization.

All that, yes, but the movie’s no dirge; it’s French, and so is also filled with joy that literally makes me laugh out loud. And, far from least, this is the movie where one learns the proper method of making salade de pommes de terre. Crucial.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson (2014)

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Took me a long time to get through this, as I kept hitting rewind and pause to savor every detail. It must either thrill or horrify Anderson’s designers, the way he has them make these incredibly attractive and intricate sets, many of which appear on screen for about two seconds. (One of Anderson’s strongest comic methods is the quick cut to and away from something absurd or delicious, like a editorial eye-roll.)

I’ve coincidentally been reading a lot of Stefan Zweig in recent months and have written about him below, so I’ll skip that here, except to say that it makes every sense in the world that Anderson too has come under his spell. (I’m pretty confident he must have read The Post Office Girl before working up this script; the Grand Budapest is the spitting image of the crenellated resort hotel in that novel.) Anderson is always up for mourning and celebrating beauty gone to seed, genius under-appreciated, elegance coarsened by modernity’s boring (and/or murderous) efficiencies. So was Zweig. They’re a nice pair.

It’s not my favorite Wes Anderson (I have a longstanding and slightly mysterious, even to me, obsession with submarines, so that’s that), but it is delightful as always, and it even, very uncharacteristically, permits a tiny germ of historical consciousness to creep in, so that pleased me too.