These are the Rules (2014) is a film that was not on my radar heading into the Festival. It just so happened that I had an unexpected gap in my schedule and decided to add another film in… I probably should have just gone and had a couple of beers to be quite honest.
There is some initial promise as the film sets up its drab, washed out cityscape, all urban sprawl painted in greys. However after the film establishes this nice sense of place, it quickly gives way to a boring few rooms where the action takes place, discarding the cityscape. The film does succeed in painting that overt suburban aspect though. Familial dramas that escalate as the film progresses, at least somewhat. The script lumbers along though, not always feeling real to life, which you suspect is much of the point. Plot wise, the film focuses on a family, a teen returns home after a night out having been bashed. As his condition worsens, his parents attempt to ascertain exactly what happened to him, and to get some people to care about it. It is from this perspective that the film does make some interesting societal points. In particular Croatian bureaucratic institutions – ambulance, police and hospital – are derided in a somewhat effective way.
Stylistically the film is naturalistic on a number of levels. It is shot simply and competently, though it never makes you feel like you are watching something any more cinematic than a run of the mill TV drama. The acting is similarly understated but at least on this front that assists the film meet its goals. In particular the Peter Lorre lookalike Emir Hadzihafizbegovic as a concerned father is very good, managing to convey the emotional torment he is suffering through relatively well. There is a weight hanging over the film, the whole thing has a sad atmosphere to it. Which is in and of itself not a criticism but it never feels meaningful under that weight, not helped by the fact the film is totally humourless. Overall any impact the film manages to have simply comes from that inherent in the situation being depicted. Not the skill of the filmmaking or storytelling.
Verdict: Ultimately, These are the Rules is nothing more than a slow domestic drama, heavy on the domestic and low on the drama. Feels like a million other films you’ve seen before at a film festival and I was simply not at all fussed by the whole thing. Bland. Schooner of Carlton Draught