|The hunt. Mila Parely|
Just about every social or cultural anchor—love, honor, class, even classical distinctions between literary genres—is dismantled in La Règle. The title is doubly ironic: The social classes abided by their rules in pre-war Europe, love had its rules, comedy and tragedy had their rules. Renoir smashes these rules into pieces. La Règle in 1939 points the way to the absurdist strain in Modernism. The animal hunt is a deft visualization of the slaughter during the Great War and the slaughter to come—warfare on land (the rabbits) and in the air (the birds). The idea of the disintegration of class distinctions, of relationships teeming with infidelity and jealousy, had been around since Musset (whose Les Caprices de Marianne Renoir used as a springboard), Beaumarchais and Molière. In La Règle, ignobility is society's great leveler (the way all cats seem to be the same color at night), much as you find it in Enlightenment theater traditions. But the movie pounces on the modern: civilization itself becomes a witches' sabbath in which sentiment is juxtaposed with raunchy sex chases, heroes (like the hapless aviator) are turned into victims of mischief, and the intricate organizing impulse of society itself crumbles into a mayhem of poaching (both animal and sexual). In earlier literature, the immoral was the moral, but in La Règle it's the revelrous commingling of the immoral with the amoral. That's what makes the movie so absolutely modern, and so sustaining.