Gatherings at Country Houses, Day 3 (a day late, sorry)

The last day of the official festival! But Jenny and I are going to carry it on, with a SURPRISE GROUPING OF THREE MORE FILMS, over the next week or so. Watch this space.

The Rules of the Game (La Regle du jeu) (Jean Renoir, 1939): Ika’s review

I am sort of left speechless by the brilliance of this one, because anything I say about it feels like a violent oversimplification. It’s what I’m starting to recognize as an absolutely classic gathering-movie, in that it centres on a married couple and their respective lovers being invited to a country house at the same time; this time the married couple are a French aristocrat of Jewish descent, Robert, and his Viennese wife, Christine. Robert has a mistress, Genevieve, as custom dictates, but Christine has looser and more anarchic affiliations with an older man, Octave (played TO THE HILT by the lovely round Jean Renoir, at times in a BEAR SUIT) and a younger man, Andre. She’s Viennese, so she doesn’t understand the ‘rules of the game’, and although she and the men who love her seem to be the centre of the plot (which, yes, spirals out of control towards the firing of a gun), it’s actually very hard to get a handle on her, in a way which I really enjoyed: is she irresponsibly playing with the men’s emotions? Does she truly believe in love (eros, as antisocial and anarchic force), making her a dangerous loose-cannon among the other characters who are happy to play at stylized versions of it? Is she just striking back against her unfaithful husband (again because she doesn’t understand the rules of the game of marriage, as played in Paris)? She was wonderfully enigmatic, but in the way that real people are, not in the way that Beautiful Women In Movies are. AND SHE DOES NOT GET PUNISHED IN THE END OF THE MOVIE hoorah.

Other really standout things about this film: the shape and the pace, which were fast and flowing, and pulled you through before you really had time to understand what was happening (looking at critical commentary online, apparently there are three planes of action in almost every shot where the sub-plots are developing in the background; I missed that, in part because I was knitting,* and I can’t wait to watch it again and see [some of] what I missed). The hunt scene and the death of the rabbits: shiver. The way the upper-class plot and the working-class (servant) plot echo each other and intersect, but without it ever feeling like ‘OH IS IT NOT IRONIC THE ARISTOCRATS ARE ACTING LIKE THEY ARE NO BETTER THAN THE POOR’, just like everyone in the film was people. Massively complex, massively satisfying; another one for the permanent collection.

*I knitted through all the films, btw. Only the Bergman one made me lose my place in the pattern and have to tink about half a row.

The Rules of the Game: Jenny’s review

I have a theory that the first book/film/whatever that kick-starts a new genre often remains the best. Jane Eyre is still the ultimate Gothic romance, Lord of the Rings the ultimate fantasy, Holden Caulfield the ultimate angsty teen narrator, Hannibal Lecter the ultimate serial killer – and I’d be prepared to bet that La regle du jeu is the ultimate country-house-party movie, containing and surpassing the intrigues of Chinese Roulette; the focus on both upstairs and downstairs in Gosford Park; the use of a shooting party as a metaphor for war, as in, um, The Shooting Party… and more. Watching the mismatched people whom de la Cheyniest has gathered together as they gossip and romp in the corridors really brought the specific possibilities of gatherings in a big house home to me. There’s so much going on and, though the movie has clearly been pillaged ever since, its observations are too acute to have been turned into cliches by that process. I didn’t entirely get Christine on this first viewing but she’s not just a ‘can’t help herself’ femme fatale: she has motivation coming out of her ears. And Renoir himself is in the movie, OMG – neither as an antihero nor as a self-parodying cameo: I don’t think I’ve ever seen that level of detachment before. So much to remember and mull over. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time. Thanks, Stephin.

Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, 2006): Ika’s review

Oh, Imaginary Stephin, Imaginary Stephin, next time you come to our house with a big pile of DVDs, please to leave the colour ones out and just bring the b/w ones. This was kind of like Harmony Korine was taking everything that brings me joy in my life, and that I believe in, and that is just part of the pattern and texture of my everyday experience – let’s call it ‘fannishness’ for short – and then making a film which swung violently back and forth between exposing fannishness as pathetic and meaningless and noisily espousing its profound worth and beauty – but in both cases completely missing the point. Also: more rape, which is like the MOST BORING AND SQUICKY form of the country-house sexual-illicitness ever. Stop it, country-house film-makers. (Or at least rape some of the men FOR PARITY.)

(Though following on from what I said about the country house as the site of the illicit circulation of desire in my last post, I realized that I think one of the ur-country-house texts is de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom – classed and gendered sexual license mounting towards violence in a remote, isolated location. So, hmm.)

A couple of links to take the taste away: Fugitivus on the rendering-invisible of rape culture in movies, and my account of the cabaret at a fan convention.

Mister Lonely: Jenny’s review

So, okay, in this movie Harmony Korine is arranging a dozen, mainly American impersonators against a Scottish landscape. We don’t learn much about them as individuals, nor do we see them working on the farm or rehearsing their show for the villagers: the only events we’re shown are the art-house standbys, rape and suicide. Meanwhile, in another plot strand, nuns fly because they believe and then crash at the end of the movie. I got the feeling that Korine intended his characters to be completely outside the experience of the people watching them – but I’m a suicide survivor who’s worked in a rape crisis centre, my previous girlfriend was once a nun, and I go to fan conventions and dress as characters from the British science fiction series Blake’s 7, so I guess I wasn’t Korine’s target audience: at any rate, it all looked very unconvincing to me. (Pretty young nuns? Impersonators who are roughly the same shape as the famous people they’re impersonating and who dress like them but who don’t replicate their mannerisms, let alone their personalities? WTF??)

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2 Responses to Gatherings at Country Houses, Day 3 (a day late, sorry)

  1. nix says:

    I’ve very much enjoyed your reviews!

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