The abstract geometric prints and paintings of Ellsworth Kelly, currently the subject of a major exhibition at LACMA, do not immediately call to mind French classical narrative cinema. But Kelly spent a formative period in Paris from 1948 to 1954 and, just like the prints and paintings hanging on the museum's walls, the films the artist has chosen to screen as part of “Ellsworth Kelly Selects” reflect the enduring importance of that time for him.
Renoir's 1939 The Rules of the Game is one of those rare films that can reasonably be called perfect. Unlike many canonical titles one might feel obligated to catch up with, Renoir's film remains fresh, engaging, charming and sharply connected to both its world and ours. While primarily following a group of upper crusters who get together at a country chateau for a weekend of hunting, drinking and fooling around, the story is also ever mindful of the work involved in making luxury run. (Downton Abbey fans take special note.) Renoir's ability to convincingly touch points all along a tonal scale, from ridiculous farce to serious social drama, is spectacular; that the film also still feels so cohesive is simply astonishing.
Also showing is Casque d'or, a 1952 film from director Jacques Becker, who worked as an assistant to Renoir. There is an elegant efficiency to the deeply felt romanticism of this film about a carpenter who had escaped his criminal past but is pulled back into the underworld over a woman. More straightforward than the Renoir film, Casque d'or may represent for Kelly less the French tradition of masterpieces than the wonders of the everyday entertainments encountered as a young man on the boulevards of Paris.
The ties between Kelly's work and The Rules of the Game and Casque d'or may not be immediate, but they all connect to a viewer's heart and mind with stylish, sublime directness. —Mark Olsen
THE RULES OF THE GAME and CASQUE D'OR | Fri., March 9 | Bing Theater at LACMA | lacma.org