Léger sought to foster in his still-life paintings of the late 1920s a "new realism, in which ordinary manufactured objects have plastic possibilities" (in Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, p. 48). The artist had long been interested in motion pictures, and in 1922 he wrote an article about Abel Gance's film The Wheel, pointing out that "the cinematic revolution is to make us see everything that has been merely noticed" (in ibid., p. 22). In 1924, Léger collaborated on the film Ballet Mécanique with the American avant-garde film-maker Dudley Murphy and the composer George Antheil. Léger became familiar firsthand with the cinematic techniques of close-up, fragmentation and montage, all derived from cubism and cubist collage. He put these at the service of his chief goal in painting, which was to create and exploit contrasts, both formally and through his choice of subjects, so that objects and forms might appear simultaneously and unexpectedly within the invented space of the composition. The central element in the composition remained the object, which he wrote, "by itself is capable of becoming something absolute, moving and dramatic" (in ibid., p. 65).
The relationships between objects might appear unclear, and indeed there might be no connection whatsoever, for Léger's intentions were first and foremost plastic, not narrative. Jeux (Nature morte aux cartes) perhaps comprises a clearer thematic unity than many Léger compositions of this period, insofar as most of the objects and shapes depicted have some connection to a jeu de cartes, a card game. The geometric background shapes suggest a card table, and a lamp is visible at lower right. Léger has introduced the effects of contrast through the dislocation of component objects and the suppression of a conventional spatial context. Even the stenciled letters 'JEUX' have been partly fragmented. "I placed objects in space so that I could take them as a certainty. I felt I could not place an object on a table without diminishing its value...I selected an object, chucked the table away. I put the object in space, minus perspective. Minus anything to hold it there. I then had to liberate color to an even greater extent" (quoted in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 111).
By removing objects from their normal contexts, making unusual and often incongruous combinations, and then placing them within a purely intuitive, illogical pictorial space, Léger may have been responding, some critics supposed, to the devices of contemporary Surrealist painting and collage. The artist denied this, and indeed, Peter de Francia has pointed out that "incongruity and illogicality in Léger's work is never intended as a violation of the subsconscious. There is no assault on the memory of the spectator. The imaginary and the real are not ambivalent, and subject matter in Léger's case is never invested with a transcendental meaning" (in ibid., p. 114). The artist's purpose was purely plastic, to draw attention to everyday objects by investing them with maximum contrast. To this end, in Jeux (Nature morte aux cartes), Léger has juxtaposed flat geometric shapes and angular lines with receding, curvilinear and wavelike forms, rendered in black and white to set them off from the surrounding colored elements. In this manner he remained true to the dictum he set forth in a lecture that he delivered in 1913, while working on his famous series of Contrastes de formes paintings: "From now on, everything can converge toward an intense realism obtained by purely dynamic means. Pictorial contrasts used in their purest sense (complementary colors, lines and forms) are henceforth the structural basis of modern pictures" (in Functions of Painting, p. 7).