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Sight & Sound Poll 2012: The Rules of the Game

Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine  Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.

The Rules of the Game has become so influential that its title has taken on an extra layer of meaning: with this work, Jean Renoir put in place standards for modern cinema itself. Made in 1939, as the advent of World War II was becoming more and more a reality, it is an angry film, one that Renoir later said was about a “society dancing on a volcano.” That society is represented by a stately château, where elite members of the haute bourgeoisie have assembled for a shooting party; over the course of the weekend, the ugliness of their natures is revealed. The milieu was dramatically different from those of this politically minded filmmaker’s previous works, which were often defiantly working-class. Audiences didn’t know what to make of The Rules of the Game, and its hostile reception (which led to its being reedited to a considerably shorter length and then pulled from theaters) is one of the greatest stories in film history. Who better to recall it than Renoir himself, who does so in this clip from his 1961 introduction to the film?

“Everyone has their reasons,” goes the famous quote from the film, delivered by a character played by the director himself; likewise, everyone has their favorite scene from The Rules of the Game. While the rabbit and bird hunt is a tour de force of editing, composition, and rhythm, we’re particularly fond of the sinister danse macabre, in which a living-room skeleton and ghost performance provides a metaphorical backdrop for all sorts of shady goings-on.

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