Jean Renoir’s “Elena and Her Men”

I watched Jean Renoir’s “Elena and Her Men” (1956) last night. The relationship it has with his own “Rules of the Game,” completed some 17 years earlier, is striking. There’s no question that Elena doesn’t measure up to Rules visually: some lovely color homages to father Auguste notwithstanding, Elena has a bit of a feeling of filmed theater in contrast with the vivacious camera-as-mise-en-scène that is Rules. But the themes, some of the characters, and several motifs and devices are eerily similar. At the center of both films is a troubled high-society foreigner who is loved by too many. Competition for affection, complications of honor, and the complexities of class politics drive each narrative to tragic or potentially tragic outcomes.

Elena is more obviously a farce and treats its subject far more lightly. But both films embed the same warning: that a hierarchical society if allowed to develop without constraint will corrupt and eventually destroy the foundation of humanity. A message as relevant in 1956 as it is now.

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