It is difficult to write anything about Jean Renoir's 1939 masterwork without feeling like you are dribbling tiny drops of ink into a vast ocean of praise. Routinely ensconced near the top of any list of great French films, and firmly enshrined in the pantheon of world cinema, it influenced generations of directors from Altman to Allen, to Fellini and most especially Truffaut and the rest of the French new wave. In fact, the universal encomiums heaped on it can be daunting, imparting a sense that is a movie to be revered first and enjoyed second. But it need be handled with lace gloves; this is a tremendously entertaining movie, one so stuffed with characters, motion, ideas and pure joie de vivre, that it can be exhausting. If it's multitude of charms don't instantly warm you, take comfort that critics and the press of the time simply hated it. Released on the brink of war, nationalistic audiences reviled the tragicomic tale of a wild weekend hunting party at a swanky estate, as a savage attack on the nation's very character. How right they were, as the feuds, affairs, cruelties and extravagances Renoir's sprawling cast of spoiled, wealthy idlers was a perfect mirror of the sort of pre-war bourgeoisie twits who twiddled as Europe burned. In fact, it was such a flop, that when the original negative was destroyed by bombing, no one noticed and the movie was nearly lost forever.
History has righted the score for Rules, and now a scrupulous digital restoration should ensure that its beautiful fools will go on dancing well into the night.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237), at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16-17, and at 4 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.