Renoir’s iconic survey of bourgeois French society on the cusp of World War II follows an assortment of upper-crust characters as their romantic predilections and peccadilloes play out over one weekend at a large country estate. Signaling a shift in Renoir’s filmmaking away from naturalism and towards a more poetic stylization (the use of deep focus anticipates Citizen Kane), Rules was dismissed by critics, largely ignored by the French public upon its release, and eventually banned by the Vichy government—only to be hailed decades later as one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of world cinema.
“It would be possible to discuss the film simply in terms of its craftsmanship and the extraordinary editing (particularly in the last sequence); technically, it is breathtaking. But it seems almost an insult to worry over how it is done—what is far more exciting is to explore what is in it. Renoir, the great master of French naturalism, and the source of so much of the neo-realist movement, is revealed in The Rules of the Game as the progenitor also of the trends in film associated with Bergman, Antonioni, Resnais, and others.”