criterion rules of the game review

Discussion in 'DVD' started by andrew markworthy, Feb 3, 2004.

  1. andrew markworthy

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    I took delivery of this disc a couple of days ago, and IMHO it's a thoroughly good disc, with one notable exception.

    For those of you who don't know what this film is about, it's set in France just before WWII. Most of the action takes place in a country house where assorted members of the French nobility and hangers-on have gathered for the weekend. The actions of the upper classes are contrasted with those of the servants. Nearly all are portrayed as mindless slaves of the social system who know that they must abide by the 'rules of the game'. At the start of the film, one of their number breaks the rules by saying what they actually feel on national radio, and the rest of the movie in effect follows the consequences of that action. I shan't spoil the enjoyment of newbies by giving away any more of the plot, but suffice to say that the ending of the movie is a wonderful combination of tragedy and dark comedy.

    In the hands of a Brit or an American, Rules of the Game would be a heart on the sleeve denunciation of the evils of the class system, but Renoir, the director, adopts a superficially more relaxed Gallic view of the proceedings. It appears more nonchelant, but is ultimately more effective by not preaching but forcing the viewer to comprehend rather than just watch. The movie is regularly listed in critics' (and directors') lists of the 'best movies of all time', and if you have any claim to liking movies, then you should at least see it and ideally pick up the DVD, because like all great movies, it gets better with repeated viewings.

    Okay, what about the disc itself? Well, Criterion have done their usual excellent job of cleaning up the picture and sound, and unless you are a total pedant, you'll have nothing to complain about (I have the French R2 version which came out a few years ago, and the Criterion version is considerably better).

    This is a two-disc set, and is beautifully packaged in a clear plaster cover.

    DISC 1

    This contains the movie (in excellent condition, as noted), and a few extras. First, there is an introduction to the film by Jean Renoir himself. This is a brief five minutes or so, but Renoir's wonderful charm shows through, and he is admirably self-depricating.

    Then there is a side by side comparison of the two versions of the movie with commentary by Professor Christopher Faulkner, a noted expert on Renoir's work. This is very informative, and IMHO it's a shame that Prof Faulkner didn't do a commentary on the whole movie. For those who are wondering what's meant by 'two versions of the movie', some explanation is required. When Renoir premiered the movie in 1939, reaction was extremely hostile (to put it mildly). Alarmed by the reaction, Renoir trimmed about ten minutes from the original running length, giving a movie of about 80 minutes. This is the version that everyone saw for the next 20 years. During the war, the original movie was lost in a bombing raid. However, in 1959, some film historians attempted to recreate the original movie by salvaging bits of discarded negatives, etc. The result was a movie of over 100 minutes long - in other words, not only was the original footage restored (or rather most of it - one minor scene has been lost forever, it would seem), but in addition, they'd inserted stuff that Renoir had cut out before the original release. Renoir approved this new cut, and that is the version we have on this disc and the one which has established the reputation of Rules of the Game as one of the greatest movies ever made.


    Also included on Disc 1 is an audio commentary written by film scholar Alexander Sesonske. This is read out by Peter Bogdanovich. IMHO, it's the one weakness in the disc. It's not that what's said is bad - far from it. But it reads like a very interesting essay that is trying to keep up with what is on the screen. After a short while, I found it very hard to follow. There is just too much information, or perhaps just too many words. I think as a written essay illustrated with still pictures from the movie it would be superb, but it doesn't work for me as a commentary. Others may feel differently, of course.

    DISC 2

    This contains a lot of extra goodies. I've dipped into these, and they seem good, but I suspect that the precise value of these will differ according to your level of interest in Renoir's work. I've cut and pasted the details of what's on Disc 2 from the Criterion website:

    Excerpts from Jean Renoir, le patron: La Règle et l’exception (1966), a French television program directed by Jacques Rivette

    Part one of Jean Renoir: a two-part 1993 BBC documentary by David Thompson, featuring reflections on Renoir from his family, friends, collaborators, and admirers

    New video essay about the film’s production, release, and later reconstruction

    Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand discuss their reconstruction and re-release of the film

    New interview with Renoir’s son, Alain, an assistant cameraman on the film

    New interview with The Rules of the Game set designer Max Douy

    1995 interview with actress Mila Parély

    Written tributes to the film and Renoir by François Truffaut, Paul Schrader, Bertrand Tavernier, Wim Wenders and others

    In conclusion, I'd say this was a must-have purchase for film fans, but the commentary track may not be to everyone's taste.
     
  2. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    Thanks for your well-written and reasoned comments Andrew. This, along with Grand Illusion, is one of the films that I think truly comments on society in an effective manner. And perhaps more importantly, is an equally fine film from a technical perspective.

    Although I did not need your comments for this DVD to be on my buy list, it is comforting to have my purchase decision validated.
     
  3. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    This is a must-own for any fan of the film. Criterion scrapped their initial transfer, and pushed back the release date, when better source material surfaced that had long been thought unfindable. The depth and detail of the image are like nothing I've seen before. It's so good you can even see the makeup on the actors. It probably looks better than most film prints currently in existence.

    For the hell of it, I pulled out my old Criterion LD of the film, which, at the time, was the best version I knew. Compared to the DVD, it's like someone slathered a layer of grime over the image.

    Concerns about the commentary are noted, but who cares when the film looks this good?

    M.
     
  4. Brian PB

    Brian PB Supporting Actor

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    This was among my most-anticipated releases... EVER, so I am happy to report that it has exceeded my expectations, and was worth the (seven year) wait.

    The Rules of the Game is a film which both rewards (and demands) repeated viewings, so owning it in a definitive DVD set is very gratifying. I will warn people who have not seen this film, but who are aware of it's lofty reputation (it ranked third in the last Sight+Sound poll), that you may be under whelmed the first time you see it (or wonder what the fuss was all about). Much of the film plays out like a lightweight farce, yet, beneath the surface, Renoir is attacking both the pettiness and the amorality of the upper classes, and asserting the inevitability of the Second World War.

    Personally, I find the Sesonske/Bogdanovich commentary to be excellent, though it may strike many as too dense and scholarly. The rest of the supplementary materials are brilliant and illuminating. It is this kind of release which demonstrates the unparalleled quality of the Criterion Collection.

    If you have any interest at all in classic world cinema, this set is a must-have.
     
  5. andrew markworthy

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    It's not that it's too 'scholarly', but rather that it doesn't fit comfortably with the images. As I said in the review, it's probably far better as a written rather than spoken essay.
     
  6. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    This review brings up a question: “why does not HTF have someone to review Criterions, given the current reviewer per studio approach?”

    Normally I’m too lazy to write in enough of an orderly and reasoned fashion as many of these titles deserve (and I suspect that there are many others just like myself). But even I would be willing to make the effort, if given an early crack at some of these releases. And some of the older ones that perhaps deserve a mention today.
     
  7. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    You just answered your own question, Lew. Criterion isn't a studio. Their output, and their approach to marketing, are entirely different.

    M.
     
  8. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    Yes, I've run in to the situation where Criterion takes no responsibility for a disc after they've published it, they neither make nor distribute it, it's somebody else's duty after they're finished.

    Also, because of how Criterions differ from general studio output, somebody knowledgable about the film should review the disc as they are after all intended for a somewhat discriminating market, and priced accordingly.
     
  9. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    I'm not sure what kind of situation you're describing, but it's not what I was referring to. I simply meant that the marketing models applicable to studios (which include multiple advance screeners sent to websites) don't necessarily apply to Criterion or most of their product. They aren't going to sell a zillion copies of Rules of the Game by having it reviewed on dozens of websites. The people who are already interested in the title will buy it, and that's their market.

    M.
     
  10. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    For the circumstance, I just meant that Criterion is responsible for the published material in the disc package, not the physical manifestation and conveyment of the product. I guess that clears it up...[​IMG]

    Anyway, after whingeing re the whereabouts of my copy in another thread last week I got it the next day, typical...

    Edit: I know this is not true of all Criterion releases, just some of the "bigger" movies it seems.
     
  11. Mark_vdH

    Mark_vdH Screenwriter

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    Aside from your (sensible) argument, the fact is that Criterion does send review copies to selected websites. And given that fact, I'd say it would be logical for them to include HTF as 'Criterion review site'. I would say the percentage of users that would blindly buy the somewhat lesser known good/great/classic movies on the basis of a positive review or recommendations by fellow users is relatively high over here....
     
  12. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    Is this worth a blind buy? I loved Grand Illusion quite a bit, and I was wondering if that was enough of a justification.

    No, I do not have it at a library.

    No, I do not have it at a local video story.

    And no, I don't have Greencine or Netflix.

    However, I have made some very good blind buys (most Kurosawa, and all of the Fox Studio Classics I own).
     
  13. Ben Rockwell

    Ben Rockwell Agent

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    I've only see Grand Illusion , but I was curious if I would enjoy this film if I enjoyed the other one. I've been wanting to pick up Grand Illusion, and if Rules of the Game is just as enjoyable I may as well pick it up, too. Thanks for any info.
     
  14. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    If you loved Grand Illusion, I would also recommend Rules of the Game as a purchase. It is perhaps more cynical than Grand Illusion, but it is also more finely crafted. One of the few films that has no false notes.

    And with this thread and post, there is one less reason for Criterion to provide HTF with review copies.
     
  15. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    Don't think we haven't tried to obtain
    screener product from Criterion.

    We have with little success as you can see.
     
  16. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    That's a real shame, Ron. We have some amazing film fans here at HTF who are very knowlegeable and superb writers. Lew, of course, is amongst them. I would love to see Criterion reviews at HTF, and I think the quality and passion you see in so many HTF reviews (Dave's and Herb's spring immediately to mind, and the many other reviewers whose names slip my memory) would definitely encourage HTF readers to consider and buy more criterion product. Most of Criterion's releases I know very little about, and as a cineaste it frustrates me that there are so few reviews of Criterion product out there. Films like Naked Lunch, Ikiru, or the upcoming Pickup on South Street are ones I've considered purchasing, but I ended up deciding not to primarily because I'd never seen the films and couldn't justify the expense on only the way the appealing pitch (and overall product) Criterion presents. In cases like these a review could have easily swayed my opinion. And even despite this, more than ten percent of my collection is criterion--but then the last new criterion I bought was In the Mood for Love. The big difference, is that HTF reviews for the outstanding Disney, Fox, and Warners products get me extremely excited to own the discs myself, and those three companies have almost exclusively enjoyed all my dollars for the past two years (excepting the LOTR and Indiana Jones releases).

    Adam
     
  17. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    I only have 31 Criterion titles, and all except two were bought blind, based on recommendations of HTF'ers. It's not like I need a PR sell job, but somebody to explain to somebody like me what's special about this movie and why I need to see it, which pretty much means owning it around here, and why this Criterion release is worthy (restoration/framing/extras etc.).

    And advance reviews (VERY advance if possible) are especially useful in Canada as Criterions are pricey here but are reasonable for the quality product if you pre-order ASAP.

    You might say "what's the difference between buying blind and if there's no reviews?", but there is a difference: the one's I bought blind sounded interesting to me, but if somebody reviews a disc here and makes it sound interesting and special and worthy, I will most likely get it, even though it *didn't* at first sound interesting to me based on the info I already had including Criterion's PR release.
     
  18. andrew markworthy

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    The chances are that yes, you would. I'm not as big a fan of Grand Illusion. Don't get me wrong - a good film, essential purchase for movie buffs, etc, but it's not quite as perfect as Rules of the Game. But there again, that's like saying that Beethoven's 6th Symphony isn't quite as perfect as Beethoven's 9th.
     
  19. andrew markworthy

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    Ronald, if you ever do, then I would be prepared to take on the selfless task of receiving free review copies of all the new Criterions and watching them on behalf of HTF members everywhere. In addition, I'd be prepared to review the entire back catalogue (including the OOP ones, for the benefit of folks buying them on ebay). It would of course eat into my leisure time, but for you guys, I feel it'd be worth it. [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  20. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    The line forms to the left. [​IMG]

    M.
     

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