Criterion resurrects “The Rules of the Game” in a beautiful 4K UHD presentation.

There is something to be noted about Criterion and Janus films; while some of their slate of films and releases can be defined as questionable, they certainly release undeniably important films and always have. Especially as someone who went to school to study film, I understand the importance of some of these films (or directors) and can appreciate the body of work while also simultaneously admitting that the project(s) is/are certainly not for me. Everything has a time, too. Certain movies and subjects only play really well to that extensive time period and don’t hold up or translate in a modern age. This is where I find myself with Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, a movie that is entirely a product of its time, and its harsh critique of society falls somewhat flat in a modern lens.

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Mila Parely as Genevieve in THE RULES OF THE GAME. Photo courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

Before diving into the movie itself, there is something I want to address as it is incredibly frustrating and potentially would turn a lot of customers off within the first five minutes. There are several screens of text overlay in French that get subtitled in the most mind-boggling way possible. Instead of using a colored font or waiting until the original French screen is gone, Criterion decided to translate to English an overlap, so white text over white text on a plain black background and trying to read the translation in the overlap is exhausting. Granted, it is not crucial to the film, but rather the restoration and the difficulties faced in restoring this film, it truly is an aggravating start. Throughout the film, there are brief moments where it is difficult to read the translations, but they are far and few between, so it’s not nearly as aggravating or off-putting.

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L-R: Nora Gregor as Christine and Roland Toutain as Andre Jurieux in THE RULES OF THE GAME. Photo courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

The Rules of the Game focuses on aviator Andre Jurieux (Ronald Toutain) landing at a small airport hoping to be met by the woman he desires, Christine (Nora Grégor) who’s married to Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio), who’s an affluent member of society. Andre’s friend Octave (co-writer/director Jean Renoir) invites him to a weekend of hunting at an aristocrat’s estate that consists of handpicked guests and the mansions servants. While the movie was originally detested and subjected to cuts after its initial showings, the original cut was also destroyed and it took 20 years to get it reconstructed. The film was an exploration of culture, a statement of world affairs, and a look at corrupt French society. For a historical perspective, The Rules of the Game certainly provides a look at the period and could be examined for the rest of time, but as a film one may want to watch without a specific lens of exploration, it isn’t for all audiences. However, if one is buying this 4K ultra HD criterion (or the Blu-ray), it would be safe to assume they’re aware of what they’re getting themselves into and not diving into a blind buy.

While the film itself is not something that was particularly my cup of tea, the restoration itself is beautiful. For a film that had the original negative destroyed and then restored and given this treatment is simply sublime. The restoration is 64 years old and, considering how it had to be reconstructed, this new transfer is absolutely stunning. It truly is a work of art in of itself, even if the subject and story aren’t as gripping as they would’ve been back in the day. The transfer is one of the best looking classic era film era films to be put on disk.

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Nora Gregor as Christine in THE RULES OF THE GAME. Photo courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

While looking into this new 4K Ultra HD release of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, the only difference between this release and the Blu-ray release is the 4K UltraHD transfer itself. While it’s disappointing that there are no new features, or even a new essay, the transfer is truly the reason to make the upgrade itself. If this is the first time one would be purchasing the movie, the uncompressed monaural soundtrack, along with the comparison of the film’s two endings, and excerpts from the 1966 French television program by filmmaker Jacques Rivette are some of the incredible features included in this Criterion release. Truly, it is an obscure title, but certainly one for fans of French cinema, world cinema, or fans of Renoir’s work itself. This criterion is another incredible addition to their 4K Ultra HD lineup, but a title that is not as appealing to the general masses and is one more focused on the diehard Criterion fans and purveyors of cinema.

The Rules of the Game Special Features:

  • New 4K restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • One 4K UHD disc of the film and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
  • Introduction to the film by director Jean Renoir
  • Audio commentary written by film scholar Alexander Sesonske and read by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
  • Comparison of the film’s two endings
  • Selected-scene analysis by Renoir historian Chris Faulkner
  • Excerpts from a 1966 French television program by filmmaker Jacques Rivette
  • Part one of Jean Renoir, a two-part 1993 documentary by film critic David Thompson
  • Video essay about the film’s production, release, and 1959 reconstruction
  • Interview with film critic Olivier Curchod
  • Interview from a 1965 episode of the French television series Les écrans de la ville with Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand
  • Interviews with set designer Max Douy; Renoir’s son, Alain; and actor Mila Parély
  • PLUS: An essay by Sesonske; writings by Jean Renoir, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bertrand Tavernier, and François Truffaut; and tributes to the film by J. Hoberman, Kent Jones, Paul Schrader, Wim Wenders, Robert Altman, and others

Available on 4K UHD The Criterion Collection on June 6th, 2023.

For more information, head to the official The Criterion Collection The Rules of the Game webpage.

The Rules of the Game cover art

Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews

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