Jean Renoir's 1939 classic is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, and Criterion is very proud to present the film in a special two-disc edition. Cloaked in a comedy of manners, this scathing critique of corrupt French society is about a weekend hunting party at which amorous escapades abound among the aristocratic guests-which are also mirrored by the activities of the servants downstairs. The refusal of one of the guests to play by society's rules sets off a chain of events that ends in tragedy.
The Criterion Collection exceeds even its own high standards with a wealth of bonus features for Jean Renoir's masterpiece, The Rules of the Game
. On its own, disc 1 would be enough to satisfy film scholars and cinephiles, with an archival introduction to the film by Renoir himself (he was clearly pleased by the film's eventual acceptance and recognition), and for the feature-length audio commentary, director Peter Bogdanovich does an admirably lucid job of reading from Alexander Sesonske's hard-to-find book Jean Renoir: The French Films, 1924-1939
, a model of scholarly clarity and astute observation that is also excerpted in the accompanying 24-page booklet. A comparison of the different endings of the film--the earlier truncated version and 1959 restoration--reveals how a harsher indictment of the haute bourgeoisie
ran counter to the more balanced and compelling perspective that Renoir had intended, and this is further supported by an illustrated study of Renoir's own copy shooting script, complete with deletions, margin notes, and revised dialogue.
Disc 2 is a feast in itself, the main courses being two essential documentaries exploring the many facets of The Rules of the Game. Directed by New Wave filmmaker Jacques Rivette, the 1967 French TV production--part of a series called "Filmmakers of Our Time"--is a typically thorough example of New Wave cinephilia, with Renoir answering serious questions about Rules in his own jovial, accommodating fashion. Directed by David Thompson (not to be confused with noted critic David Thomson), part 1 of the two-part 1993 BBC documentary Jean Renoir focuses more on Renoir's personal and professional history, and features abundant interviews with Renoir's surviving contemporaries. The disc is rounded out by a video essay on the film's troubled history and eventual rescue and rise to greatness; an archival interview with the two French cinephiles who diligently restored Rules (with Renoir's approval) to its present-day 106-minute length; a 1995 interview with French actress Mila Parély (who played Genevieve); and new 2003 interviews with Rules set designer Max Douy and, most enjoyably, Renoir's son Alain, who worked as assistant camera operator and now teaches Comparative Literature in America. Written tributes by noted filmmakers and critics (including Paul Schrader, Wim Wenders, and Cameron Crowe) close the disc in high class, ensuring that The Rules of the Game will enjoy even greater appreciation with the release of this essential two-disc set. --Jeff Shannon