What is the greatest movie ever made? Although Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) regularly tops critics' lists, French director Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" (1939) is often a close second-and sometimes wins.
Renoir's film wasn't always so popular. An angry patron set fire to his newspaper during the picture's premiere, apparently trying to burn down the theater. Audiences stormed out at subsequent screenings, and early criticism of the film was brutal.
Why the initial negative reaction? Perhaps it was because of the film's fiercely satirical focus. In film critic Roger Ebert's words, Renoir portrayed the French ruling class "as silly adulterous twits, with the working class emulating them within their more limited means."
No wonder the French, on the verge of war with Nazi Germany, were upset. The last thing they needed was a Frenchman poking fun at their own loose morals and mores.
Renoir, the son of French impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, survived both the second World War and the assault on his cinematic creation. His film was, in fact, an inspiration for Welles' classic and for the "French New Wave" films of the late 1950s and 1960s. It's as unforgettable as Charles Foster Kane's "Rosebud."
Although you can watch "The Rules of the Game" on YouTube.com or on a Criterion DVD (avoid the VHS version), treat yourself to a real cinematic experience at Middlebury's Town Hall Theater on June 14.
Two French New Wave films roll into the Theater in subsequent weeks: Fran ois Truffaut's "Shoot the Piano Player" (1960) on June 21, and Agn s Varda's "Cl o From 5 to 7" (1962) on June 28.
Each show starts at 8 pm and costs $5. The Theater is at 68 South Pleasant St. For further information, go to www.townhalltheater.org or call 382-9222.