Singer, Irving. "Jean Renoir." Three Philosophical Filmmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir. Palatino: MIT Press, 2004: 146-219.
Irving Singer holds the belief that each of Renoir's films led him on a path to discovery of both the culture around him and himself. He believes that Renoir's character of Octave in Rules of the Game is actually a self-representation: that Renoir desired to play himself, someone that "lost contact with the public" (149). Octave is also shown as slightly inept and mismanaged, revealing Renoir's attempt to level and connect with the public. Singer includes a comment made by Renoir stating that he's only ever "shot one film," maintaining the belief that Renoir strived to provide an accurate representation of French society, even when this meant he must display his views in contrast with those of the general public (147). Singer remarks, however, that Renoir so wished to connect with his audience, with his society, that he became almost desperate to achieve contact and that this desperation led to Renoir's near destruction of Rules of the Game when he continually cut out pieces of the film that may have offended audiences. Singer believes that, in the years leading up to WWII, Renoir's main goal in his filmmaking was to explore how people relate to each other, to nature, and to technology. Singer also expresses the belief that Renoir drew alot from Hinduism, explaining the filmmaker's desire to contrast the differences between his character's spiritual and material lives, a central theme in Rules of the Game.
Singer's chapter on Renoir provides a very interesting take on the filmmaker and his works. It is clear, especially after reading this work, that Jean Renoir was on a quest for truth, using film as a tool to capture society in its most realistic form. Rules of the Game was greatly influenced by the fact that Renoir wished to accurately depict French society though he, of course, was somewhat blinded by his own middle-class beliefs and tendencies. For instance, Renoir criticizes the bourgeios and the servants equally, as he, himself, stood in the middle ground, exempt from criticism. Renoir, however, is nowhere near self-praising; instead, the film functions somewhat as an autobiography with Renoir playing the role of Octave, his on-screen representation. Both lament that they have lost contact with the public. This comment is shown to be almost comically, though paradoxically, true: Renoir had never expected such a negative response from his audience. Up until this point, Renoir's works were, for the most part, celebrated by French society. The point at which he became public about his concerns of losing emotional and intellectual touch with the people, his work invokes a disastrous result and Renoir physically disconnects from his people by fleeing the country. This work also provides a very interesting look at another of Renoir's influences: religion, describing how the beliefs of Hinduism propelled him on his quest for turth amidst spiritual and material confusion.
Bergan, Ronald. "Everyone Has His Reasons." Jean Renoir: Projections of Paradise. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1994: 196-206.
In this chapter, Ronald Bergan goes into detail on Jean Renoir's influences for Rules of the Game. For starters, he explains that Renoir kept several elements from the original, Les Caprices de Marianne. Before writing his script, Renoir also drew from other Musset works as well as French baroque music. Bergan believes that these sources, as well as the political events surrounding Renoir, allowed him to create such a unique style in Rules of the Game - one that neatly combined "melodrama and farce" (198). Bergan emphasizes the importance of the hunting scene in the film which shows the "callous cruelty of the guests" and provides the most explicitly violent critique of French bourgeois society (203). Bergan makes a point to note the animosity between (and among) both the upper and lower classes as the solidarity of the Popular Front is now gone. While the prejudice and snobbery of the ruling class is blatantly on display, their critiqued behaviors are echoed by their servants. Bergan also explains Renoir's use of deep-focused lenses, stating that such far-reaching shots were necessary to gather all of the actions taking place in such a dynamic ensemble production. Quick shots and heavy editing would simply not show the interworkings of society that the deep, long shots are capable of. Bergan concludes his chapter by providing some explanation for the harsh critiques that Rules of the Game received by the public upon its release: at the time, Renoir was a known supporter of the Communist Party. Also, his casting provoked "right-wing, anti-semitic and xenophobic emotions" (205).
This article is extremely interesting as Ronald Bergan is able to list several stylistic influences on Renoir in writing Rules of the Game. Instead of focusing on the thematic influences such as the Munich agreement, as other critics have done, Bergan is able to hone in on specific tricks peformed by Renoir, often unorthodox, to inspire his story, such as listening to Baroque music. This offers an alternate view of Jean Renoir in which he is drawing from each and every source in his life to fuel a powerfully creative, though extremely accurate, tale of the world around him. Bergan also details the remarkable accomplishment of, in essence, creating the long shot in Rules of the Game. This huge triumph is usually overshadowed by the negative French public opinion of the film. Bergan, however, explains several concrete reasons as to why the film was met with such criticism by initial audiences. Firstly, Renoir's ties with the Communist Party would have pitted a great deal of Frenchmen against him from the start, especially after observing somet type of critique of French society. Fear of communism, especially in the current situation in Europe, could have easily allowed Rules of the Game to come off as Jean Renoir's attempt at French communist propaganda. Also, the stars of his film included a Jewish man and an Austrian woman, clearly stirring the hatred of the prejudiced and also confusing the public, in such a time of national fragility, that Renoir would even think of using possible 'enemies' to portray the French, especially in a critique.
Bergstrom, Janet. "Jean Renoir's Return to France." Poetics Today 17.3, Creativity and Exile: European/American Perspectives I (1996): 453-89.
In this article, Janet Bergstrom strives to determine the reason behind Renoir's long exile from France after World War II as well as his abandonment of French realist style. After the bitter failure of Rules of the Game in 1939, Renoir fled to the United States where he would continue to make Hollywood films, deserting his country (and perhaps morals, ideals, and sense of self) for good. After WWII, Renoir became somewhat of a sellout, conforming to Hollywood styles and expectations. Renoir's dramatically different approach to filmmaking, however, hindered him from achieving real commercial success in Hollywood, almost hinting that Renoir could not escape the French Realism that he worked so hard to define. Bergstrom also describes Renoir's alliances with the Communist Party and how this may have hurt Rules of the Game's success in prewar France. She also examines the "betrayal" felt by many of Renoir's fans, that their French hero had deserted them (456); Renoir, however, considered himself a "citizen of the world" that followed his instinct wherever it took him (458). Bergstrom also examines the depression that overtook Renoir upon the failure of his most-loved film. It is impossible to ascertain the truth behind Renoir's motives through mere speculation, though the betrayal that Renoir himself would have felt by the angry French audiences after the release of Rules of the Game is surely necessary to take into account.
This article is extremely helpful in understanding the impact that Rules of the Game initially had on the French people and why Renoir was so changed by it. Bergstrom provides a great deal of personal information about the life of Jean Renoir before, during, and after the creation of Rules of the Game. Knowing where Renoir was, mentally and politically, at the release of the film greatly aides in understanding his extreme reaction. Rules of the Game was Renoir's first real chance to express himself freely, uninhibited by social restraint or fears. He felt that he was led by his instinct and was very happy with the work he had created. He took offense when the French public took so negatively to Rules of the Game; he was proud of his work and expected his countrymen to share in the sentiment. Upon the realization that his 'baby' was a failure, Renoir felt the need to flee. This article really puts into perspective the importance of this film to Renoir and provides legitimate reasons for his seemingly-extreme reaction.
Armes, Roy. "The Paradoxes of French Realism." French Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985: 86-108.
Roy Armes takes a slightly different approach to analyzing Rules of the Game and the works of Renoir than my other sources. He starts off by saying that Renoir's works are not united by a common style. He, instead, characterizes Renoir's films as existing between contradictory impulses, in a state of tension. He suggests viewing and analayzing each of Renoir's films separately, each in its own contemporary setting. Armes believes this is necessary as Renoir proved to be greatly influenced by each shift, however miniscule, within French society before WWII. Each major political event in the European world of the 1930s can be seen as part of one of Jean Renoir's films. Armes acclaims Rules of the Game as Renoir's most impulsive, uninhibited work that toys with reality and illusion and also provides a "self-portrait of rare depth" (107). Armes describes the theatrical techniques used by Renoir and the 'dramatic fantasy' that he creates by forming several 'play within a play' structures. Armes believes that each pivotal moment in the film arises when two incongruously linked characters are brought together - a technique that both readily induces dramatic conflict within the film and obviously mirrors conflict within society, providing a clear juxtaposition to the imposing 2nd World War.
This article provides a different perspective from which to view the film. Unlike many other critics that group Renoir's films together as a continuous social critique, Roy Armes underlines the importance of viewing each film separately. If Renoir were truly sensitive to changes in French culture, each of his films would embody a different viewpoint and radiate an entirely different spirit. It is very important, as Armes suggests, to analyze each film in its own contemporary setting. Thus, Rules of the Game should not be immediately compared to Renoir's other works as it often is. Armes also brings up the possibility that the film was, for Renoir, something of a self portrait. This provides countless new options for viewing the film and thus, Jean Renoir. For instance, we can learn alot about Renoir and his intentions by studying the character of Octave. Paradoxically, watching the film and analyzing the character will help viewers better understand the filmmaker and, thus, his intentions with the film. The article also suggests that Renoir uses a 'dramatic fantasy' technique in order to artfully bury his political beliefs in a complicated web of relationships. Knowing this technique helps one extract Renoir's intended messages from the film.
Buss, Robin. "La Regle de jeu/The Rule of the Game (1939)." The French Through Their Films. New York: Ungar, 1988: 55, 114.
In his book, Robin Buss analyzes several important French films and how they relate to the society they depict as well as the movements they were a part of. He remarks that Rules of the Game was initially met with indifference and not long after, critiqued and banned. Now, however, the film is revered as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time. Buss explains that this extremely quick change in preferences is representative of the rapid culture changes in the past half century, especially in French society, and more importantly, as a result of war. Buss also points out an extremely interesting symbol in Rules of the Game: Renoir's use of food. For instance, Octave's refusal of breakfast is considered a sign of distress. The very importance placed on food in the culture depicted by Renoir both helps audiences connect to the story and reveals a superficiality present in the customs of popular culture. Thus, the very technique Renoir uses to reach out to his audience also condemns the practices central to their daily lives.
Robin Buss' book is an overall filmography of early 20th century French cinema. It provides an interesting look at Rules of the Game by placing it in its historical context. Unlike many other sources, Buss's book shows Renoir's film as one of the many. Instead of being the sole topic of discussion, the film is juxtaposed with other important works of French cinema, some with very similar themes, and readers are able to assess the importance of Rules of the Game at a point 50 years after its release. Most interestingly, Buss offers an alternate topic of study for the film: the use of food as a symbol. Renoir's use of this symbol could have a two-fold purpose: the first to connect with his audience. Renoir expressed a deep desire to become one with the public and the use of such a communal symbol would have not only brought his audience together but also forged a bond between the audience and the characters. The second purpose, conversely, is to provide a critique of French culture. In this tumultuous, growingly amoral society, food is one of the only thing that still matters. Fulfilling both of these purposes, food is also shown as a connector between the ruling class and the servants. This aides both in drawing connections to unite French society but also, more subtly, in upholding a method of critique.