‘Jacques Rivette was both the most open and the most reticent of French filmmakers. Of his openness, I had the good fortune of personal experience—I interviewed him in 2001 by cold-calling him. (His number was in the Paris phone book.) He answered his own phone, responded to my questions generously and cheerfully, and invited me to call him back. I did so a few months later, he picked up the phone again, and he was again equable, good-humored, and patient. Of his reticence, he spoke to me frankly yet indirectly, telling me that he made only one autobiographical film (“L’Amour Fou”).
‘Yet even if Rivette’s specific experiences are reflected by design in only one of his movies, his oeuvre, his body of work is as personal and as distinctive as that of any filmmaker. His films reflect something bigger than the practical details of one person’s life; they represent an effort to capture the fullness of an inner world, a lifetime’s range of obsessions and mysteries. Yet these private speculations and wonders—ranging from the belief in magic to a love of cities and maps, a horror of political violence and an intimation of deep conspiracies, an ardor for romance and a feeling for the real-world obstacles to its fulfillment—take on a public, social, and sociable cast, in both senses of the word. Rivette loved his actors and built most of his movies on the basis of their contributions to the substance of the film, whether in improvisation or in the script. He loved actors as such, and set many of his movies in the theatre, where the confrontation of director, performer, and the public occur immediately, without the mediation of a camera (except, of course, his own, to take a stand on these fraught transactions).
‘Rivette brought worlds out of himself because he saw himself in the world. He was the most dialectical of filmmakers, the one whose ability to displace his inner life into an abstract, seemingly arm’s-length framework was most sophisticated and accomplished. That’s because his powers of abstraction were the most formidable. Jean-Luc Godard has credited Jacques Rivette with the founding text of the French New Wave, a piece titled, “We Are No Longer Innocent,” published in the house organ of Eric Rohmer’s Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin in February, 1950. In it, Rivette sought to sweep away the familiar visual rhetoric and conventions of movies in favor of a new and personal way of looking, one that’s particular to each filmmaker—and which is a vision of the world:
[T]he universe of the creator is only the manifestation, the concrete flowering of this gaze and of its mode of appearing—this gaze which is itself only the apparition of a universe.
‘At the age of twenty-one, Rivette (who had made one film, in Rouen, and was about to make another, in Paris) issued a theoretical framework that’s perfectly congruent with the features that he’d eventually make:
“The natural expression which, in an artificial and conventional language, means complying with conventions and artifices, requires—in this lawless, always improvised, and created language—always an adventurous attempt, a continual improvisation, a perpetual creation.”
‘Rivette was a consummate cinephile, a critic of profound and famously peremptory insight, as well as a virtual walking encyclopedia of cinematic knowledge. (In a ciné-club’s Monday-night trivia contests in the early nineteen-fifties, he annoyed the audience by answering most of the questions and winning most of the prizes; as a result, he was limited to five per night.) His films bear the paradoxes of his ambitions—joining the paranoid precision of a Fritz Lang and the flowing openness of Jean Renoir (to whom he devoted three feature-length analytical portraits, in 1966), the love of the closed space of the theatre and of the limitless possibilities of the city.
‘For that matter, his best work is of the theatre and the city, in which characters turn the city into a virtual stage for a plotted private spectacle, thus imprinting public—and often nearly anonymous and workaday—places and spaces with the overflowing idiosyncratic fantasies that his characters (and, in turn, his camera) bring to them. He titled his first feature “Paris Belongs to Us”; it’s a seemingly metaphysical conjunction of a theatre’s Shakespeare production and a political conspiracy.
‘He returned to the theatre in “L’Amour Fou,” and again for “Out 1,” his nearly thirteen-hour drama about the intersecting fortunes of two theatre companies in Paris and the grand and petty conspiracies and romantic bonds that link them. In 1974, he made one of the most original and influential movies of the time, “Céline and Julie Go Boating,” in which two women (played by Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier) meet ultra-cute in Paris, move in together, share and swap identities, and become involved in an elaborate game of alternate realities in an isolated mansion.
‘Rivette’s New Wave confrère François Truffaut may have made “The Man Who Loved Women,” but in “Céline and Julie,” Rivette revealed a different sort of love for women—he saw them as masters of imagination, as the creators of secret alternate realms that remained a mystery to him and that he could approach cinematically by recruiting actresses to construct their own stories, their own plots, their own scripts, and enacting them with an unusual theatrical freedom. The result is another thirty-five years of movies of paradox (his last film, “Around a Small Mountain,” is from 2009).
‘Filming Berto and Labourier in “Céline and Julie,” Rivette managed to avoid grasping them with a male gaze, but he doesn’t have a female gaze, either. His direction, in their presence, as often in the presence of the improvising actors in “Out 1,” became self-effacing to the vanishing point. Yet the worlds on-screen remained unmistakably his own, the realms of fantasy and gamesmanship of realities and identities were seemingly images of his inner life, and even when the images were neutralized, the film was indelibly personalized. The director of paradox embodied paradoxes: only Rivette could make films that were simultaneously almost anonymous and yet confiningly hermetic, simultaneously open and closed to a fault. Rather than becoming an innovator of cinematic form, Rivette seems to have stepped away from cinematic form and distanced himself from the very notion—as if his life were so fused with that of the cinema that he dared himself to back away from it, with the precipice behind him.. The higher paradox is that even these movie’s apparent faults clashed only to rise to a higher artistic virtue. Rivette may be the master of movies which blast through the notion of being good in order to be great.
‘Rivette’s tension of fantasy and reality, of city and theatre, of freedom and constraint, of societal conflicts and intimate drives, of actorly disinhibition and directorial vision, finds its supreme form in “Le Pont du Nord” (North Bridge), which had long been rare, was nearly lost, and is now, happily, available on DVD. So are “Out 1,” “Paris Belongs to Us,” as are his cold howl on modern solitude “Secret Defense” (which features some of the most majestically lyrical scenes of the Paris Métro ever filmed) and the mournful romanticism of young women in a theatre troupe and their directorial mentor (Bulle Ogier), but not the whimsical street-musical “Haut Bas Fragile” (“Up, Down, Fragile”).
‘Yet, strangely, Rivette’s most conspicuous influence isn’t a film but a piece of criticism—an article that he wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma in 1961, “On Abjection” (here, translated and annotated by David Phelps). Its subject is the movie “Kapo,” by Gillo Pontecorvo. Rather, Rivette’s essay is about the subject of Pontecorvo’s film and the sense of responsibility with which an artist should approach such a subject:
‘The least that one can say is that it’s difficult, when one takes on a film on such a subject (the concentration camps), not to ask oneself certain preliminary questions; yet everything happens as though, due to incoherence, inanity, or cowardice, Pontecorvo resolutely neglected to ask them.
‘Most famously, Rivette cites one scene in the film and one shot in it (the last in this clip, in which Pontecorvo moves the camera to reframe the woman who dies on the electric fence) and says, “This man deserves nothing but the most profound contempt.”
‘There are things that should not be addressed except in the throes of fear and trembling; death is one of them, without a doubt; and how, at the moment of filming something so mysterious, could one not feel like an imposter? It would be better in any case to ask oneself the question, and to include the interrogation, in some way, in what is being filmed; but doubt is surely that which Pontecorvo and his ilk lack most.
‘Rivette’s article has become a touchstone for discussing any film in which atrocities are committed (political atrocities—it’s rarely mentioned, to the best of my knowledge, in relation to horror films or gangster films). For instance, it was cited often in regard to “12 Years a Slave” (I discussed the connection soon after the film’s release) and the reference often comes off, in the telephone-game of critical influence, not as a call for a critic’s own consideration of the directorial psychology reflected in a particular shot or scene but as a taboo on realistic representation and a call for aversions or elliptical stylistic strategies. Rivette is, rather, saying something simpler and yet more elusive: directors should think about what they’re filming, should feel what they’re filming with the full force of experience, and if they do so, their images will be appropriate to the enacted events. It’s a call to directors to be humans before serving as artists—and to critics to watch movies with a comparable alertness to human, not aesthetic, experience, including the human experience of conjuring the presence of directors themselves. Rivette, as a crucial advocate of so-called auteurs, was an advocate not of artistic demiurges or abstract creators but of people who reveal and test their character by directing films. His kindness and generosity, at a personal level, are entirely consistent with and inseparable from his art.
‘I just re-read “On Abjection” for the first time in a few years and was jolted by Rivette’s reference to a series of “false problems” and “dichotomies.” The ones that he cites have in fact proven central to his films—and his essay comes off as his own self-justification, in advance, of his entire body of work. Such a degree of self-consciousness and self-awareness in an artist must have been a torment or, at least, a burden. It may help to explain why, throughout his career, he risked the radical depersonalization and self-effacement of his art, why he pursued unconscious resonances, irrational wonders, metaphysical mysteries of life and death.’ — Richard Brody
Jacques Rivette Website
Jacques Rivette @ IMDb
‘On Abjection’, by Jacques Rivette
The Captive Lover – An Interview with Jacques Rivette
Jacques Rivette (1928-2016), by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Mort de Jacques Rivette, le mystérieux de la bande
Jacques Rivette obituary
Cohen Media Group Acquires 10 Jacques Rivette Movies for North America
How a Holocaust Film Earned Jacques Rivette’s Deepest Contempt
Where to begin with Jacques Rivette
John Hughes On (and With) Jacques Rivette
Unique and monumental, Out 1 is the most paranoid movie ever made
Paris Belongs To Us is an eerie gem of the French New Wave
Jacques Rivette: The Great Manipulator
OUT 2: JACQUES RIVETTE IS DEAD @ Entropy
Jacques Rivette: A Differential Cinema
Interview with Jacques Rivette
Jacques Rivette nous laisse avec son mystère
Jacques Rivette, le veilleur
Serge Daney interviews Jacques Rivette on his early days as a critic and filmmaker.
Entrevista de Jacques Rivette a Jean Renoir
Jacques Rivette on other films
I guess I like a lot of directors. Or at least I try to. I try to stay attentive to all the greats and also the less-than-greats. Which I do, more or less. I see a lot of movies, and I don’t stay away from anything. Jean-Luc sees a lot too, but he doesn’t always stay till the end. For me, the film has to be incredibly bad to make me want to pack up and leave. And the fact that I see so many films really seems to amaze certain people. Many filmmakers pretend that they never see anything, which has always seemed odd to me. Everyone accepts the fact that novelists read novels, that painters go to exhibitions and inevitably draw on the work of the great artists who came before them, that musicians listen to old music in addition to new music… so why do people think it’s strange that filmmakers – or people who have the ambition to become filmmakers – should see movies? When you see the films of certain young directors, you get the impression that film history begins for them around 1980. Their films would probably be better if they’d seen a few more films, which runs counter to this idiotic theory that you run the risk of being influenced if you see too much. Actually, it’s when you see too little that you run the risk of being influenced. If you see a lot, you can choose the films you want to be influenced by. Sometimes the choice isn’t conscious, but there are some things in life that are far more powerful than we are, and that affect us profoundly. If I’m influenced by Hitchcock, Rossellini or Renoir without realizing it, so much the better. If I do something sub-Hitchcock, I’m already very happy. Cocteau used to say: “Imitate, and what is personal will eventually come despite yourself.” You can always try.
Europa 51 (Roberto Rossellini, 1952)
Every time I make a film, from Paris nous appartient (1961) through Jeanne la pucelle (1994), I keep coming back to the shock we all experienced when we first saw Europa 51. And I think that Sandrine Bonnaire is really in the tradition of Ingrid Bergman as an actress. She can go very deep into Hitchcock territory, and she can go just as deep into Rossellini territory, as she already has with Pialat and Varda.
Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)
I’ve never had any affinity for the overhyped mythology of the bad boy, which I think is basically phony. But just by chance, I saw a little of L’Armée des ombres (1969) on TV recently, and I was stunned. Now I have to see all of Melville all over again: he’s definitely someone I underrated. What we have in common is that we both love the same period of American cinema – but not in the same way. I hung out with him a little in the late ’50s; he and I drove around Paris in his car one night. And he delivered a two-hour long monologue, which was fascinating. He really wanted to have disciples and become our “Godfather”: a misunderstanding that never amounted to anything.
The Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1948)
The poster for Secret Défense (1997) reminded us of Lang. Every once in a while during the shoot, I told myself that our film had a slim chance of resembling Lang. But I never set up a shot thinking of him or looking to imitate him. During the editing (which is when I really start to see the film), I saw that it was Hitchcock who had guided us through the writing (which I already knew) and Lang who guided us through the shooting: especially his last films, the ones where he leads the spectator in one direction before he pushes them in another completely different direction, in a very brutal, abrupt way. And then this Langian side of the film (if in fact there is one) is also due to Sandrine’s gravity.
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
The most seductive one-shot in the history of movies. What can you say? It’s the greatest amateur film ever made.
Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946)
I knew his name would come up sooner or later. So, I’m going to speak my peace at the risk of shocking a lot of people I respect, and maybe even pissing a lot of them off for good. His great films, like All About Eve (1950) or The Barefoot Contessa (1954), were very striking within the parameters of contemporary American cinema at the time they were made, but now I have no desire whatsoever to see them again. I was astonished when Juliet Berto and I saw All About Eve again 25 years ago at the Cinémathèque. I wanted her to see it for a project we were going to do together before Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974). Except for Marilyn Monroe, she hated every minute of it, and I had to admit that she was right: every intention was underlined in red, and it struck me as a film without a director! Mankiewicz was a great producer, a good scenarist and a masterful writer of dialogue, but for me he was never a director. His films are cut together any which way, the actors are always pushed towards caricature and they resist with only varying degrees of success. Here’s a good definition of mise en scène – it’s what’s lacking in the films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Whereas Preminger is a pure director. In his work, everything but the direction often disappears. It’s a shame that Dragonwyck wasn’t directed by Jacques Tourneur.
The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
It’s Chandler’s greatest novel, his strongest. I find the first version of the film – the one that’s about to be shown here – more coherent and “Hawksian” than the version that was fiddled with and came out in ’46. If you want to call Secret Défense a policier, it doesn’t bother me. It’s just that it’s a policier without any cops. I’m incapable of filming French cops, since I find them 100% un-photogenic. The only one who’s found a solution to this problem is Tavernier, in L.627 (1992) and the last quarter of L’Appât (1995). In those films, French cops actually exist, they have a reality distinct from the Duvivier/Clouzot “tradition” or all the American clichés. In that sense, Tavernier has really advanced beyond the rest of French cinema.
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Of course we thought about it when we made Secret Défense, even if dramatically, our film is Vertigo in reverse. Splitting the character of Laure Marsac into Véronique/Ludivine solved all our scenario problems, and above all it allowed us to avoid a police interrogation scene. During the editing, I was struck by the “family resemblance” between the character of Walser and the ones played by Laurence Olivier in Rebecca (1940) and Cary Grant in Suspicion (1941). The source for each of these characters is Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, which brings us back to Tourneur, since I Walked with a Zombie (1943) is a remake of Jane Eyre.
I could never choose one film by Hitchcock; I’d have to take the whole oeuvre (Secret Défense could actually have been called Family Plot ). But if I had to choose just one film, it would be Notorious (1946), because of Ingrid Bergman. You can see this imaginary love affair between Bergman and Hitchcock, with Cary Grant there to put things in relief. The final sequence might be the most perfect in film history, in the way that it resolves everything in three minutes – the love story, the family story and the espionage story, in a few magnificent, unforgettable shots.
Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1966)
When Sandrine and I first started talking – and, as usual, I didn’t know a thing about the film I wanted to make – Bernanos and Dostoyevsky came up. Dostoyevsky was a dead end because he was too Russian. But since there’s something very Bernanos-like about her as an actress in the first place, I started telling her my more or less precise memories of two of his novels: A Crime, which is completely unfilmable, and A Bad Dream, a novel that he kept tucked away in his drawer, in which someone commits a crime for someone else. In A Bad Dream, the journey of the murderess was described in even greater length and detail than Sandrine’s journey in Secret Défense.
It’s because of Bernanos that Mouchette is the Bresson film I like the least. Diary of a Country Priest (1950), on the other hand, is magnificent, even if Bresson left out the book’s sense of generosity and charity and made a film about pride and solitude. But in Mouchette, which is Bernanos’ most perfect book, Bresson keeps betraying him: everything is so relentlessly paltry, studied. Which doesn’t mean that Bresson isn’t an immense artist. I would place Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) right up there with Dreyer’s film. It burns just as brightly.
Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pialat, 1987)
Pialat is a great filmmaker – imperfect, but then who isn’t? I don’t mean it as a reproach. And he had the genius to invent Sandrine – archeologically speaking – for A nos amours (1983). But I would put Van Gogh (1991) and The House in the Woods (1971) above all his other films. Because there he succeeded in filming the happiness, no doubt imaginary, of the pre-WWI world. Although the tone is very different, it’s as beautiful as Renoir.
But I really believe that Bernanos is unfilmable. Diary of a Country Priest remains an exception. In Under the Sun of Satan, I like everything concerning Mouchette [Sandrine Bonnaire’s character], and Pialat acquits himself honorably. But it was insane to adapt the book in the first place since the core of the narrative, the encounter with Satan, happens at night – black night, absolute night. Only Duras could have filmed that.
Home from the Hill (Vincente Minnelli, 1959)
I’m going to make more enemies…actually the same enemies, since the people who like Minnelli usually like Mankiewicz, too. Minnelli is regarded as a great director thanks to the slackening of the “politique des auteurs.” For François, Jean-Luc and me, the politique consisted of saying that there were only a few filmmakers who merited consideration as auteurs, in the same sense as Balzac or Molière. One play by Molière might be less good than another, but it is vital and exciting in relation to the entire oeuvre. This is true of Renoir, Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Dreyer, Mizoguchi, Sirk, Ozu… But it’s not true of all filmmakers. Is it true of Minnelli, Walsh or Cukor? I don’t think so. They shot the scripts that the studio assigned them to, with varying levels of interest. Now, in the case of Preminger, where the direction is everything, the politique works. As for Walsh, whenever he was intensely interested in the story or the actors, he became an auteur – and in many other cases, he didn’t. In Minnelli’s case, he was meticulous with the sets, the spaces, the light…but how much did he work with the actors? I loved Some Came Running (1958) when it came out, just like everybody else, but when I saw it again ten years ago I was taken aback: three great actors and they’re working in a void, with no one watching them or listening to them from behind the camera.
Whereas with Sirk, everything is always filmed. No matter what the script, he’s always a real director. In Written On the Wind (1956), there’s that famous Universal staircase, and it’s a real character, just like the one in Secret Défense. I chose the house where we filmed because of the staircase. I think that’s where all dramatic loose ends come together, and also where they must resolve themselves.
That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel, 1977)
More than those of any other filmmaker, Buñuel’s films gain the most on re-viewing. Not only do they not wear thin, they become increasingly mysterious, stronger and more precise. I remember being completely astonished by one Buñuel film: if he hadn’t already stolen it, I would have loved to be able to call my new film The Exterminating Angel! François and I saw El when it came out and we loved it. We were really struck by its Hitchcockian side, although Buñuel’s obsessions and Hitchcock’s obsessions were definitely not the same. But they both had the balls to make films out of the obsessions that they carried around with them every day of their lives. Which is also what Pasolini, Mizoguchi and Fassbinder did.
The Marquise of O… (Eric Rohmer, 1976)
It’s very beautiful. Although I prefer the Rohmer films where he goes deep into emotional destitution, where it becomes the crux of the mise en scène, as in Summer, The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediathèque and in a film that I’d rank even higher, Rendez-vous in Paris (1995). The second episode is even more beautiful than the first, and I consider the third to be a kind of summit of French cinema. It had an added personal meaning for me because I saw it in relation to La Belle noiseuse (1991) – it’s an entirely different way of showing painting, in this case the way a painter looks at canvases. If I had to choose a key Rohmer film that summarized everything in his oeuvre, it would be The Aviator’s Wife (1980). In that film, you get all the science and the eminently ethical perversity of the Moral Tales and the rest of the Comedies and Proverbs, only with moments of infinite grace. It’s a film of absolute grace.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992)
I don’t own a television, which is why I couldn’t share Serge Daney’s passion for TV series. And I took a long time to appreciate Lynch. In fact, I didn’t really start until Blue Velvet (1986). With Isabella Rossellini’s apartment, Lynch succeeded in creating the creepiest set in the history of cinema. And Twin Peaks, the Film is the craziest film in the history of cinema. I have no idea what happened, I have no idea what I saw, all I know is that I left the theater floating six feet above the ground. Only the first part of Lost Highway (1996) is as great. After which you get the idea, and by the last section I was one step ahead of the film, although it remained a powerful experience right up to the end.
Nouvelle Vague (Jean-Luc Godard, 1990)
Definitely Jean-Luc’s most beautiful film of the last 15 years, and that raises the bar pretty high, because the other films aren’t anything to scoff at. But I don’t want to talk about it…it would get too personal.
Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
Along with Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945), it was the key French film for our generation – François, Jean-Luc, Jacques Demy, myself. For me, it’s fundamental. I saw Beauty and the Beast in ’46 and then I read Cocteau’s shooting diary – a hair-raising shoot, which hit more snags than you can imagine. And eventually, I knew the diary by heart because I re-read it so many times. That’s how I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. Cocteau was responsible for my vocation as a filmmaker. I love all his films, even the less successful ones. He’s just so important, and he was really an auteur in every sense of the word.
Les Enfants terribles (Jean Cocteau, 1950)
A magnificent film. One night, right after I’d arrived in Paris, I was on my way home. And as I was going up rue Amsterdam around Place Clichy, I walked right into the filming of the snowball fight. I stepped onto the court of the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre and there was Cocteau directing the shoot. Melville wasn’t even there. Cocteau is someone who has made such a profound impression on me that there’s no doubt he’s influenced every one of my films. He’s a great poet, a great novelist, maybe not a great playwright – although I really love one of his plays, The Knights of the Round Table, which is not too well known. An astonishing piece, very autobiographical, about homosexuality and opium. Chéreau should stage it. You see Merlin as he puts Arthur’s castle under a bad charm, assisted by an invisible demon named Ginifer who appears in the guise of three different characters: it’s a metaphor for all forms of human dependence. In Secret Défense, the character of Laure Mersac probably has a little of Ginifer in her.
Cocteau is the one who, at the end of the ’40s, demonstrated in his writing exactly what you could do with faux raccords, that working in a 180-degree space could be great and that photographic unity was a joke: he gave these things a form and each of us took what he could from them.
Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)
I agree completely with what Jean-Luc said in this week’s Elle: it’s garbage. Cameron isn’t evil, he’s not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can’t direct his way out of a paper bag. On top of which the actress is awful, unwatchable, the most slovenly girl to appear on the screen in a long, long time. That’s why it’s been such a success with young girls, especially inhibited, slightly plump American girls who see the film over and over as if they were on a pilgrimage: they recognize themselves in her, and dream of falling into the arms of the gorgeous Leonardo.
Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen, 1997)
Wild Man Blues (1997) by Barbara Kopple helped me to overcome my problem with him, and to like him as a person. In Wild Man Blues, you really see that he’s completely honest, sincere and very open, like a 12-year old. He’s not always as ambitious as he could be, and he’s better on dishonesty than he is with feelings of warmth. But Deconstructing Harry is a breath of fresh air, a politically incorrect American film at long last. Whereas the last one was incredibly bad. He’s a good guy, and he’s definitely an auteur. Which is not to say that every film is an artistic success.
Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)
I like it very much. But I still think that the great Asian directors are Japanese, despite the critical inflation of Asia in general and of Chinese directors in particular. I think they’re able and clever, maybe a little too able and a little too clever. For example, Hou Hsiao-hsien really irritates me, even though I liked the first two of his films that appeared in Paris. I find his work completely manufactured and sort of disagreeable, but very politically correct. The last one [Goodbye South, Goodbye, 1996] is so systematic that it somehow becomes interesting again but even so, I think it’s kind of a trick. Hou Hsiao-hsien and James Cameron, same problem. Whereas with Wong Kar-wai, I’ve had my ups and downs, but I found Happy Together incredibly touching. In that film, he’s a great director, and he’s taking risks. Chungking Express (1994) was his biggest success, but that was a film made on a break during shooting [of Ashes of Time, 1994], and pretty minor. But it’s always like that. Take Jane Campion: The Piano (1993) is the least of her four films, whereas The Portrait of a Lady (1996) is magnificent, and everybody spat on it. Same with Kitano: Fireworks (1997) is the least good of the three of his films to get a French release. But those are the rules of the game. After all, Renoir had his biggest success with Grand Illusion (1937).
Face/Off (John Woo, 1997)
I loathe it. But I thought A Better Tomorrow (1986) was awful, too. It’s stupid, shoddy and unpleasant. I saw Broken Arrow (1996) and didn’t think it was so bad, but that was just a studio film, where he was fulfilling the terms of his contract. But I find Face/Off disgusting, physically revolting, and pornographic.
Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)
His work is always very beautiful but the pleasure of discovery is now over. I wish that he would get out of his own universe for a while. I’d like to see something a little more surprising from him, which would really be welcome…God, what a meddler I am!
On Connaît la Chanson (Alain Resnais, 1997)
Resnais is one of the few indisputably great filmmakers, and sometimes that’s a burden for him. But this film is almost perfect, a full experience. Though for me, the great Resnais films remain, on the one hand, Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Muriel (1963), and on the other hand, Mélo (1986) and Smoking/No Smoking (1993).
Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997)
What a disgrace, just a complete piece of shit! I liked his first film, The Seventh Continent (1989), very much, and then each one after that I liked less and less. This one is vile, not in the same way as John Woo, but those two really deserve each other – they should get married. And I never want to meet their children! It’s worse than Kubrick with A Clockwork Orange (1971), a film that I hate just as much, not for cinematic reasons but for moral ones. I remember when it came out, Jacques Demy was so shocked that it made him cry. Kubrick is a machine, a mutant, a Martian. He has no human feeling whatsoever. But it’s great when the machine films other machines, as in 2001 (1968).
Ossos (Pedro Costa, 1997)
I think it’s magnificent, I think that Costa is genuinely great. It’s beautiful and strong. Even if I had a hard time understanding the characters’ relationships with one another. Like with Casa de lava (1994), new enigmas reveal themselves with each new viewing.
The End of Violence (Wim Wenders, 1997)
Very touching. Even if, about halfway through, it starts to go around in circles and ends up on a sour note. Wenders often has script problems. He needs to commit himself to working with real writers again. Alice in the Cities (1974) and Wrong Move (1975) are great films – so is Paris, Texas (1984). And I’m sure the next one will be, too.
Live Flesh (Pedro Almodóvar, 1997)
Great, one of the most beautiful Almodóvars, and I love all of them. He’s a much more mysterious filmmaker than people realize. He doesn’t cheat or con the audience. He also has his Cocteau side, in the way that he plays with the phantasmagorical and the real.
Alien Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997)
I didn’t expect it as I was walking into the theater, but I was enraptured throughout the whole thing. Sigourney Weaver is wonderful, and what she does here really places her in the great tradition of expressionist cinema. It’s a purely plastic film, with a story that’s both minimal and incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it managed to scare the entire audience, while it also had some very moving moments. Basically, you’re given a single situation at the beginning, and the film consists of as many plastic and emotional variations of that situation as possible. It’s never stupid, it’s inventive, honest and frank. I have a feeling that the credit should go to Sigourney Weaver as much as it should to Jeunet.
Rien ne va plus (Claude Chabrol, 1997)
Another film that starts off well before falling apart halfway through. There’s a big script problem: Cluzet’s character isn’t really dealt with. It’s important to remember Hitchcock’s adage about making the villain as interesting as possible. But I’m anxious to see the next Chabrol film, especially since Sandrine will be in it.
Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997)
I’ve seen it twice and I like it a lot, but I prefer Showgirls (1995), one of the great American films of the last few years. It’s Verhoeven’s best American film and his most personal. In Starship Troopers, he uses various effects to help everything go down smoothly, but he’s totally exposed in Showgirls. It’s the American film that’s closest to his Dutch work. It has great sincerity, and the script is very honest, guileless. It’s so obvious that it was written by Verhoeven himself rather than Mr. Eszterhas, who is nothing. And that actress is amazing! Like every Verhoeven film, it’s very unpleasant: it’s about surviving in a world populated by assholes, and that’s his philosophy. Of all the recent American films that were set in Las Vegas, Showgirls was the only one that was real – take my word for it.I who have never set foot in the place!
Starship Troopers doesn’t mock the American military or the clichés of war – that’s just something Verhoeven says in interviews to appear politically correct. In fact, he loves clichés, and there’s a comic strip side to Verhoeven, very close to Lichtenstein. And his bugs are wonderful and very funny, so much better than Spielberg’s dinosaurs. I always defend Verhoeven, just as I’ve been defending Altman for the past twenty years. Altman failed with Prêt-à-Porter (1994) but at least he followed through with it, right up to an ending that capped the rock bottom nothingness that preceded it. He should have realized how uninteresting the fashion world was when he started to shoot, and he definitely should have understood it before he started shooting. He’s an uneven filmmaker but a passionate one. In the same way, I’ve defended Clint Eastwood since he started directing. I like all his films, even the jokey “family” films with that ridiculous monkey, the ones that everyone are trying to forget – they’re part of his oeuvre, too. In France, we forgive almost everything, but with Altman, who takes risks each time he makes a film, we forgive nothing. Whereas for Pollack, Frankenheimer, Schatzberg…risk doesn’t even exist for them. The films of Eastwood or Altman belong to them and no one else: you have to like them.
The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997)
I didn’t hate it, but I was more taken with La Femme Nikita (1990) and The Professional (1994). I can’t wait to see his Joan of Arc. Since no version of Joan of Arc has ever made money, including ours, I’m waiting to see if he drains all the cash out of Gaumont that they made with The Fifth Element. Of course it will be a very naive and childish film, but why not? Joan of Arc could easily work as a childish film (at Vaucouleurs, she was only 16 years old), the Orléans murals done by numbers. Personally, I prefer small, “realistic” settings to overblown sets done by numbers, but to each his own. Joan of Arc belongs to everyone (except Jean-Marie Le Pen), which is why I got to make my own version after Dreyer’s and Bresson’s. Besides, Besson is only one letter short of Bresson! He’s got the look, but he doesn’t have the ‘r.’
21 of Jacques Rivette’s 32 films
Paris Belongs to Us (1961)
‘Jacques Rivette made his first feature with little money and great difficulty between 1958 and 1960. Its plot reflects his struggles, and its tone blends the paranoid tension of American film noir with the austere lyricism of modern theatre. Anne (Betty Schneider), a literature student in Paris, is drawn by her brother Pierre (François Maistre) into the intrigues of his bohemian circle—the conspiracy theories of the blacklisted American writer Philip Kaufman (Daniel Crohem) and the artistic ambitions of the director Gérard Lenz (Giani Esposito), who is staging a no-budget production of “Pericles.” After Gérard lures Anne into the cast, she comes to suspect that he is being menaced by the same cabal that may have killed his friend Juan, a composer. Juan’s final recording has been lost, and Anne dives into the demimonde to find it. Rivette’s tightly wound images turn the ornate architecture of Paris into a labyrinth of intimate entanglements and apocalyptic menace; he evokes the fearsome mysteries beneath the surface of life and the enticing illusions that its masterminds, whether human or divine, create.’ — The New Yorker
the entire film
La Religieuse (1966)
‘Because of the subject of La Religieuse, it might appear that a discussion of the aesthetics of the film should come second, after the ethics. More than ever, they are here inseparable. The iconoclastic bearing of the picture comes out more forceful1y because of the restraint of the form. Rivette must have been aware that by starting the film in a stagy Comedie-Francaise fashion and by having the dramaturgie slowly roll toward its fateful completion, he was inviting violent Church criticism. What we conclude on the sadomasochism, the venality, and the licentiousness of eighteenth-century convents arises from much minute and objectively presented evidence. But Rivette, unlike many French intellectuals, is not obsessed with anti-clericalism. The bitter attack on religion stems from the subject itself, not from personal embellishments by the director. Unfortunately, the banning of La Religieuse and the subsequent uproar have predisposed many people in such a way that they anticipate a scandalous and flamboyant film, which blinds them to the real one. Ironically, the nuns, the Catholic right wing and the archbishops of France understood the implications in Jacques Rivette’s classicism far more clearly; they recognized in it the long French tradition of polemics hidden beneath “style” — that of Pascal, Crebillon fils, Voltaire, and Diderot himself.’ — Claire Clouzot
Rivette discusses “La Religieuse” in 1966
L’amour fou (1969)
‘The four-hour experimental L’amour fou (the title pays tribute to André Breton’s 1937 surrealist text) initiates Rivette’s exploration of temporal duration. At the request of the film’s distributor, Cocinor-Marceau, a reedited two-hour version was also produced and released in tandem with the original; however, Rivette did not sanction the release of this reedited film, and so disowned it. This unauthorized version was subsequently refused commercial distribution and thus remains unavailable for commentary. The full-length film edited by Nicole Lubtchansky uses duration in a mise en abyme construction where Rivette’s 35 mm black-and-white film records a television crew directed by André S. Labarthe, which uses 16 mm black-and-white film stock to document a stage production of Jean Racine’s seventeenth-century play Andromaque. Rivette uses reflexive theatricality in the film to explore the boundaries of classical theatre and the Italian Renaissance stage, which had largely determined the mise-en-scène of both Paris nous appartient (1961) and La religieuse. In L’amour fou, Rivette pushes beyond the boundaries imposed by narrative, script, and acting style, which he felt had constrained him during the filming of La religieuse, to enter into a new dimension in filmmaking, which is disclosed in this Pirandello citation used to introduce the story outline: “I have thought about it and we are all mad.”’ — Senses of Cinema
Compression L’Amour fou de Jacques Rivette
Out 1, noli me tangere (1971)
‘It’s worth defining exactly what Out 1 is and isn’t. Sometimes known as Out 1: Noli Me Tangere (although the subtitle never appears in the credits), this is an eight-episode, 773-minute fiction film; it was originally intended as a TV serial, but was turned down by French broadcaster ORTF. It shouldn’t be confused with Rivette’s later four-hour re-edit of some of the same narrative material, under the title Out 1: Spectre (so called, apparently, because that film was a sort of “ghost” of Noli Me Tangere, which means “touch me not”). Prospective viewers hoping to lose themselves in the drift, the immensity, of Out 1 should be warned of Rivette’s original intention, as he told Le Monde in 1971, to make a film that would “function like a bad dream . . . one of those dreams that seem all the more interminable because you more or less know that’s it’s a dream.” Out 1, given the vaguely hippie-ish milieu it is set in, could also be called a bad trip, not just because of its hallucinatory bending of time and causality, but because of its rueful melancholy; it’s a story about things, people, and communal causes falling apart, arguably a lament for France’s failed utopia of 1968.’ — Film Comment
Out 1: From Conspiracy to Conspiracy
Unboxing OUT 1 de Jacques Rivette
Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)
‘CÉLINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, Jacques Rivette’s sixth feature film, is one of his strangest with regards to its narrative proceedings, but also one of his most essential. Taking place in an almost Carroll-esque landscape of Paris, the film shows the meeting of two women and where that meeting leads as they take a trip down into a fantastical realm of fiction, with ghostly images of the past and a conspiratorial plot unfolding before their very eyes. Wonderful in both its tone and meaning, CÉLINE AND JULIE gives the audience a highly feminist work in the guise of an enjoyable romp. Unlike OUT 1, CÉLINE AND JULIE GO BOATING was crafted from the get-go almost entirely with the actors (as well as with writer and filmmaker Eduardo de Gregorio) so that each actor would feel the character come to life from within her. Since each woman knew her character well, it was easier for Rivette to give direction, while still allowing the women freedom of expression. “With Rivette,” said Juliet Berto, “this was both possible and ultimately satisfying because he was really controlling our improvisations. To that extent CÉLINE ET JULIE… is a false improvisation. Actual improvisation is very awkward because most of the time people tend to use a very limited set of sentences and gestures which get to be monotonous and excessively indulgent. This happened in OUT 1; in CÉLINE AND JULIE…, on the other hand, we managed to trim down a lot of unnecessary excesses.” Still, the film was over three hours, well exceeding the length that Rivette had wished, but the image he was able to capture – a film of challenges due to its narrative eccentricities, as well as a film that discusses the roles that women play both in life and in cinema – is one both intriguing and necessary.’ — Austin Film Society
‘Duelle has been dubbed a film where “nothing but nothing is what it seems.” This is certainly true in a larger sense, in that a movie that for close to half its running time appears to be a slow-boil mystery suddenly and memorably reveals itself to be a supernatural fantasy — and not just any old genre yarn, but one where everyone involved seems to be working in a key of occult mysticism. Duelle (une quarantaine) was the second film in a projected quartet called “Scenes of Parallel Life”; Rivette intended each feature to be a different genre, and wildly experimental. Looking back, the project seems characteristic of a bygone era of grand, mad ambition among filmmakers. The first part, Noîrot (1976), is a gender-bending pirate movie, and it, too, is obscure and unavailable in the U.S. After completing Duelle, Rivette suffered a nervous breakdown and abandoned the quartet.’ — The Same Cinema Every Night
‘If each new Rivette film marks a decisive break as much as a discernible development, Part III in the projected Scènes de la Vie Parallèle — the second film made in the tetralogy — reinforces this principle with a vengeance. Receiving its world premiere at the London [Film] Festival, immediately after a screening of Duelle, Noroît has already occasioned the sort of extreme realignments provoked by Spectre after L’amour fou, or by Duelle after Céline et julie vont en bateau. Rather like the pitiless Chuck-a-Luck in Rancho Notorious, enlisting new players and expelling old ones with every spin of the wheel, Rivette’s precarious game has always been predicated on enormous risks; but unlike that vertical roulette board, it is not necessarily played to be won. Demonstrating this fact with shocking clarity, Noroît enters a treacherous, kaleidoscopic no-man’s-land where the very notion of judgment in any ordinary sense — the director’s or ours — largely seems beside the point. The old-fashioned term for this realm is “experiment”.’ — Jonathan Rosenbaum
Le Pont du Nord (1981)
‘Made in the aftermath of Rivette’s nervous breakdown, Le Pont du Nord finds the director recapturing his fondness for actorly interplay and a directing style that always uses its flourishes of movement to match and exaggerate the physicality of his performers. A wry humor creeps into the film, whether at the sight of that aforementioned man in business wear and a bike helmet attempting to look conspicuous as he trails others, or in a scene where Marie temporarily suspends her agoraphobia to get warm in a theater showing William Wyler’s The Big Country, translated into French as Wide Open Spaces. The finale, of Baptiste and the bad guy having a friendly sparring match, does nothing to bring the story to a conclusion, but its self-reflexive acknowledgment of Rivette’s presence recasts the movie as a celebration of collaborative filmmaking.’ — Slant Magazine
‘So the story goes: Having completed only two (Duelle and Noroît) of the proposed four films in his quick-succession series Scenes from a Parallel Life, Jacques Rivette found himself hounded by investors and teetering on the edge of sanity. The result: Merry-Go-Round—a fascinatingly nonsensical ramble through the director’s own inland empire, featuring a scruffy Joe Dallesandro, as American abroad Ben Phillipps, and a sleepy-eyed Maria Schneider, as mystery woman Léo Hoffmann, wandering the French countryside in search of the elusive Elisabeth (Danièle Gegauff), the former’s girlfriend and the latter’s sister. There are tenuous connections to the two completed Parallel Life films (as in the on-screen musical accompaniment performed by double bass player Barre Phillips and clarinetist John Surman) though Merry-Go-Round stands quite defiantly on its own. As suggested by its opening titles, which scan like jagged, blooming-white slashes from a highly disturbed psyche, this is a film explicitly about schisms and parallel realities. Oftentimes, Rivette will cut away from Ben and Léo’s shared quest to enter a paranoid headspace where each character imagines the other as a murderous antagonist. Furthering the sense of disconnection is that Léo is played in these scenes by Out 1‘s Hermine Karagheuz, a result of an extended and tumultuous shoot that culminated in Schneider’s unplanned exit. Dallesandro’s drug addiction and Rivette’s increasing weariness (he would suffer a nervous breakdown upon Merry-Go-Round‘s late-‘70s completion) likewise inform the twists and turns of this fractured fairy tale; indeed, it’s almost impossible to divorce the film, which sat unreleased in its home country until 1983, from the behind-the-scenes chaos out of which it grew. And yet there is beauty in Merry-Go-Round‘s madness, especially in its sand dune-set climax (one of Rivette’s finest finales) where Ben and Léo quite literally find peace, respite, and tranquility in their own heads.’ — Slant Magazine
the entire film
L’Amour par terre (1984)
‘Geraldine Chaplin and Jane Birkin are actresses taken up by an enigmatic playwright (Kalfon) and installed in his fabulous suburban mansion in order to perform a play (whose last act is still unknown) for one of his house parties. With the agency of a magician and clairvoyant, melodrama gradually seeps into both life and the rehearsals of fiction; the affaires promoted between playwright, magician and actresses lead to premonitions, hallucination, jealousy and dark secrets, all of them threaded into a weird finale of reconciliation. As with Céline and Julie, the concern here is less with the contrast between fiction and reality, more with the invention of a magical realm from which reality is rigorously excluded: enchantment is discovered not from fairytale, but within life itself. Rivette creates a unique world and language, answerable finally only to himself.’ — Time Out (London)
‘Ostensibly an adaptation of the oft-filmed Wuthering Heights, Jacques Rivette’s Hurlevent (or Howling Wind, per the translation) feels more like a schematic indication of Emily Brontë‘s famed novel, though that should not be taken as a criticism. This is one of Rivette’s most stripped down works; emotion is secondary to the film’s tight and taut surface (updated to the Cévennes countryside circa the 1930s) where passions flare imperceptibly and a romantic tragedy is performed as if preordained, though this is more than just Céline and Julie Go Boating‘s haunted house melodrama played straight. Rivette’s characters are often held captive by the stage (whether real or imagined), so when Catherine (Fabienne Babe) and her farmhand lover Roch (Lucas Belvaux) run through the fields adjacent to an imposing stone homestead (one of the film’s two primary settings), there is a profound sense of meta liberation, of escape beyond the boundaries of narrative (the wind-strewn leaves of grass, counterpointed by the incantatory vocalizations of the Bulgarian choir Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, might very well be located in the empty margins of the Book of Life). Certain of Rivette’s weaker films assume a window-dressed Christian pose (anxiety of influence, I think, from Hitchcock and Rossellini, among others), but here the spiritual inquiry is entirely genuine. The three dream sequences that near-invisibly signal Hurlevent‘s beginning, middle, and end are as much a holy trinity as they are a thematic backbone; the characters wake from these becalmed and psychologically penetrating visions into a nightmarish reality of Escher-like doorways and windows that lead them over a prolonged and circuitous path to destruction. Rivette never concretely illustrates the divide between mind and matter (the blink-of-an-eye passage of three years feels particularly apocalyptic in this context) and that allows him to have it both ways when, in Hurlevent‘s finale, the spirit world quite literally breaches the real world, an action that manages to have repercussions at once miraculous, damning, and devastating.’ — Slant Magazine
La bande des quatre (1989)
‘I would argue that of all the Cahiers du Cinema critics who became filmmakers Rivette is, after Godard, the most important — more interesting and compelling than Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, or Claude Chabrol, although his works are much less known than theirs. But I have to confess to a certain ambivalence about The Gang of Four. As a virtual anthology of Rivettean themes and patterns, it represents the first case of outright repetition in his career, and suggests that after three decades he has finally worked his way back to a more “classical” or conventional style of direction, like that of his first feature, Paris Belongs to Us. He’s obviously gained a great deal of mastery as a director in the meantime, but lost some spirit of adventure. The Gang of Four, one of his most accessible movies, can be an excellent introduction to his work as a whole; but it’s less impressive if you already know that work.’ — Jonathan Rosenbaum
La belle noiseuse (1991)
‘Jacques Rivette’s “La Belle Noiseuse” (1991) is the best film I have ever seen about the physical creation of art, and about the painful bond between an artist and his muse. Winner of the Palme d’Or prize at Cannes that year, it ran to a full four hours, and so its theatrical life was limited. Rivette edited a 125-minute version titled “Divertimento,” but why bother with it? The greatness of “La Belle Noiseuse” is in the time it spends on the creation of art, and the creation and destruction of passion.’ — Roger Ebert
‘Rivette here remodels La Belle Noiseuse into another film entirely, using alternative takes, recutting to a much brisker rhythm, and book-ending it with a discreetly but crucially different beginning and ending. The lengthy close-ups of painter Bernard Dufour’s hand in action have gone; so have most of the agonising sittings in which Piccoli tries to wring out of Béart the realisation of his ideal masterpiece. This makes for a less tangible sense of painting’s material nature, and makes more of a mystery out of the artist-model relationship; the emphasis shifts radically on to Piccoli’s wife (Birkin), who now sees the sittings from outside, much as we do. It’s a lighter film, but by no means slighter, more like the difference between a Henry James short story and an extended performance piece.’ — Time Out (London)
Jeanne la Pucelle I & II (1994)
‘Jacques Rivette directed this richly detailed six-hour drama based on the story of Joan of Arc. In Part one, “Les Batailles,” Jeanne the Maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) leaves her childhood home in Domremy after hearing what she is sure was the voice of God. She believes that she can help lead France to victory on the battlefield, and she persuades Charles, dauphin of France (Andre Marcon) to allow her to guide his troops. Part two, “Les Prisons,” concerns the sad aftermath of Jeanne’s defeat at Orleans. Jeanne is sent to prison, where in two separate trials she is tried for heresy and impersonating a man, with both her life and the sanctity of her mortal body at stake.’ — ALLMOVIE
Jeanne la Pucelle, Les batailles (Excerpt)
JEANNE LA PUCELLE: Part 2: THE PRISONS (the entire film)
Haut bas fragile (1995)
‘Haut bas fragile (Up, Down, Fragile, 1995) is Jacques Rivette’s only musical. Though many of his other films have what might be described as musical elements, these operate less in terms of music than of full bodies moving within artifice. But Haut bas fragile is an all singing, all dancing musical (though one more charmingly clumsy than the MGM musicals it was inspired by) about three girls in Paris one summer, from July 15 to August 15. Haut bas fragile is ultimately not only a lesson in what a musical is, but how to live in a musical. It’s as if this other, enchanted musical-version of Paris (or other New York) exists somewhere just around the bend from the real city. This is illustrated in the last scene of the film, in a roomy house with garden in which Ida visits the woman who may or may not be her mother. The setting seems as if it’s in the suburbs, but as Ida leaves forever, she turns from a leafy side street on to busy city traffic, and then runs. It was hidden in the city. Ida rejects this woman and any confirmation or denial of reality in favour of holding on to the fantasy, but she also embraces urban uncertainty, running to it enthusiastically and alone.’ — Senses of Cinema
Secret défense (1998)
‘There’s a straightforward, relatively conventional crime-movie plot at the heart of Secret Défense, but this is not the place to turn to get a taste of good, old-fashioned, efficient storytelling. Rivette has a lot more in mind than simply telling a story. Or, to put it differently, telling a story is exactly what he wants to do, but his conception of what constitutes a story is much freer, more expansive, and more cinematic than that of the average filmmaker. He’s less interested in narrating, in presenting the situations and plot twists to us, than encouraging us to find our own way into the story. Secret Défense is a movie about cinema, but not in a pretentious, distracting way; it’s not about cinema explicitly. It’s a film that experiments with and explores the potentialities of moviemaking, of cinematic storytelling, and so how it tells its story becomes as important as the story it tells.’ — Senses of Cinema
the entire film
Va Savoir (Who Knows?) (2001)
‘Jacques Rivette, one of the founders of the French new wave, distills 73 years of wisdom about life and movies into his enchanting romantic comedy Va Savoir (Who Knows?). And he answers the wry, boulevardier question of his title in every frame: Rivette knows. The director of ”Céline” and ”Julie Go Boating” understands how inexplicable men and women can be in love and sex, and how life is a kind of performance, the borders between reality and illusion smudged. As he’s done before, Rivette sets ”Va Savoir” in a theater — this one features an Italian troupe in Paris, where Camille (Jeanne Balibar), an actress whose current boyfriend, Ugo (Sergio Castellitto), is the company director, runs into her former lover, Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffé). Unresolved feelings shake loose; soon, the interlocking players include Pierre’s wife, Pierre’s wife’s lover, Pierre’s wife’s lover’s half-sister, and Pierre’s wife’s lover’s half-sister’s mother. It’s all very French, very intricate, and — this is Rivette’s magic — seemingly as light as air.’ — Entertainment Weekly
Histoire de Marie et Julien (2003)
‘In the septuagenarian director and former critic’s latest work, Histoire de Marie et Julien (Story of Marie and Julien), the ubiquitous presence of fiction moves beyond mere formal matrix, however, to become the actual subject of the art. The film surely represents a dissection of the process of fiction which is particular to cinematic art. Indeed, Rivette’s narrative is shaped by a consideration of the three discrete stages of filmic creation: the conception of the idea (pre-production), its actualisation (production) and its final molding through the process of editing (post-production). Thus, Histoire de Marie et Julien is a film about filmmaking, which one is tempted to read nevertheless in terms broader than pure didacticism, which is to say a film that teaches its viewer about the nature of the art form. To be sure, Rivette’s is a work that cues its audience to consider not only the creative layers of the process of narration, but also the creator’s place within this construction, which naturally implies Rivette’s function in the creation of this specific film. Hence, it would not be unreasonable to attach the tag of “personal” to Histoire de Marie et Julien given both the narrative’s recourse to referencing the creator in the process of creation, and also the director’s biography.’ — Senses of Cinema
Ne Touchez Pas la Hache (2007)
‘Jacques Rivette’s The Duchess of Langeais is a reminder that the barnstormers of the French New Wave rebelled not so much against period pieces as they did against the academic style in which they were being made. Like Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H., Rohmer’s The Marquise of O, and Rivette’s own The Nun, this Balzac adaptation is a costume drama that bristles with measured passion. Perhaps closer to its severe heart is the director’s little-seen but masterful Hurlevent, fitting since the mutually depleting battle of wills between the two protagonists brings to mind Wuthering Heights. Armand de Montriveau (Guillaume Depardieu) is a general in 1820s France, who, back from the battlefield with a limp and depths of brooding fatalism, becomes fascinated with the Duchess Antoinette de Langeais (Jeanne Balibar). “Manners are all,” Antoinette is reminded by her aunt (Bulle Ogier), and, adhering to the rules of a corseted society, she toys with her admirer’s feelings in an extended game of thwarted seduction. Armand is not one to be toyed with, however: Hardened by life and war, he likens himself to the executioner’s axe of the film’s French title (Don’t Touch the Axe), a weapon that, once touched by a coquettish woman, cuts back mercilessly. Balzac’s story was nearly filmed, tantalizingly, by Max Ophüls in 1948 as Greta Garbo’s comeback vehicle, and The Duchess of Langeais includes a reverent nod to Ophüls in the scene where, given an ominous prophecy by Armand, Antoinette half-defiantly and half-helplessly tries to lose herself in the twirling quadrilles of the ballroom floor. What follows, however, is pure Rivette: An abduction and a confrontation that, complete with branding iron, secret passageways, and the mysterious sound of seagulls, bring the filmmaker’s great themes of theatricality and conspiracy into the stifling, 19th-century chambers. Masterfully wrought and superbly acted (especially by Balibar, who excels at Antoinette’s increasing hunger for emotional violence), the film is a piercing pas de deux that excoriates romance even as its doomed characters are consumed by it.’ — Slant Magazine
36 Vues Du Pic Saint Loup (2009)
‘Being a European filmmaker means never having to worry you’re too old to direct. Manoel De Oliveira is still active at 101, Alain Resnais just had “Wild Grass” released at 88, so why shouldn’t Jacques Rivette, only 82 and like Resnais a French New Wave stalwart, have a new film as well? One thing increased age has meant for Rivette is that his films are getting shorter. Instead of clocking in at the three, four and even four-plus hours that used to be the norm, “Around a Small Mountain” lasts a mere 84 minutes, practically a hiccup in the director’s world. What hasn’t changed for Rivette is his elusive sensibility, the feeling that anything in this film might simply evaporate if you looked at it too hard. Hard to classify or describe, “Around a Small Mountain” is best thought of as an elaborate trifle that can be either beguiling or baffling depending on your point of view. Even the film’s original French title, “36 Vues du Pic Saint-Loup,” has a delicate, elusive quality, referencing both Hokusai’s wood-block prints “36 Views of Mount Fuji” and French artist Henri Riviere’s “36 Views of the Eiffel Tower.” Pic Saint-Loup, located in southern France, may be less impressive and less well known, Rivette appears to be saying, but it is still worthy of our attention.’ — Kenneth Turan
the entire film
p.s. Hey. ** Jamie, Hi, thanks, J-ster! Well, re: the documentary, it’ll depend on how and how quickly we can get some initial funding. Our producer and production manager are both on board and enthusiastic about the project, and they think funding it shouldn’t be so difficult. We’ve documented about 7 of Fujiko’s works already on our own for the film, so we’re on our way. So the answer is: I’m not sure yet. It would be great to be able to jump into it this year. Re: ‘color grading’: In our case, we have a kind of big problem in that the weather in Cherbourg was incredibly fickle and fast changing during the shoot. It would literally go from sunny to cloudy to raining and back to sunny again within an hour. And it can take, like, 6 hours to film a scene that, in the film, will only last a few minutes, and we were in a rush and couldn’t wait for the weather to cooperate, so, in the raw footage, the light in the scenes sometime changes radically from shot to shot. We’re going to need to do some serious correcting to make the light consistent and believable, so that’s one big way that ‘color grading’ will be heavily necessary. We’re told it can be done and done well, but it will be laborious, for sure. Not to be a pollyanna, but I think it’s probably very good that you now reject the first cartoon. I know when I start a new novel, it’s partly because I think, rightly or wrongly, that there are flaws in my previous novel that I want to overcome. Usually it’s not so much that there were big flaws, but more that I’ve gotten new ideas, and believing in them necessitates rejecting my previous beliefs, or something. Noodle and green lentil soup, my God, that sounds so good. Hannah seems like she can do almost anything. My day was so-so, I think, but not unpleasantly except for the effects (sweat, pollen reaction) of the unseasonably warm weather. Did Wednesday hurl up anything that you liked? Color graded love, Dennis. ** Ferdinand, Hey. You think? I’ve heard of ‘From Afar’ somewhere, I can’t remember where. I’ll check it. Sweet about the Belgian 1/3 of summer. I hope you get to extend. ** Steve Erickson, Whoa, your name is now yours. Hi. Excellent about the nailed down date. And pretty soon. That’s exciting! I don’t think inspiration is grounds for a lawsuit. Otherwise, we’d all be fucked. Wait, you turned back into steevee! I asked a friend whose music tastes are similar to mine and who was on Spotify for a while, and he said the gigantic majority of what I’m into isn’t on Spotify and that joining it would probably be useless. ** James Nulick, Really? I mean re: your waterfall terror. That’s interesting. Even fake ones? Oh, man, forgiveness is beyond unnecessary. No big whatsoever. I’m just honestly and innocently confused when that confusion happens. Hope you can make the NN conference. It seems like it should be pretty cool. ** Tosh Berman, Me too, obviously. The most amazing real ones I’ve seen are in Iceland. Fountains are goodies too, yes. Oh, definitely, if I had a house and a ton of money, there would indoor and outdoor waterfalls, in the rooms, on the roof, in the basement, … all over the place. ** David Ehrenstein, Hey. There was or is a ‘Grey Gardens’ Broadway musical? And it is or wasn’t completely horrible? Ok, thank you for further explaining ‘Proustian’. I feel slightly more understanding. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! I think part of it for me is that I have this strange thing for awards shows. I can watch any awards show with some kind of inexplicable interest. There’s something about the form or its drama or something that excites me, I have no idea why. Same with disaster movies. I can watch any disaster movie no matter how awful it is and feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with my time. I guess we all have these weird things. You have the heat too. I’m glad you don’t mind it. I just don’t like heat/hotness, which is strange since I grew up in LA where heat is normal. Hooray about the arriving submissions! I can’t wait for SCAB! Yesterday was another ‘nothing much’ day. I think it’s my dislike of the heat that’s making me lazy. Also, every single one of my Paris friends happens to be away right now, so that doesn’t help. But I’m meeting up with a friend of a friend today. So, yeah, I just worked randomly on work and the blog and wrote emails and really hardly anything at all. Oh well. Today might improve. I’ll try. How did Wednesday suit you? ** Sypha, Hi. It would have been cool if they’d built that Rio waterfall. Yes, the Throbbing Gristle show I saw was in May of 1981 at Veteran’s Auditorium in LA. Openers were Vox Pop (can’t remember them) and Swa (not bad). ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Ha ha, true. I avoided using the Olafur Eliasson waterfalls because … I don’t know really. Too hyped or something? Heavily enjoy seeing your parents and the new Generator show, man! ** Chris dankland, Hi, Chris. Oh, that is a very good fake waterfall. If I had come across that, and I wonder why it didn’t show up in my searching, weird, it would have received a place of honor. Yeah, dig, about the imparting peacefulness of that which is mobile and elemental. Staring at a river when you’re tripping is really mega, if you haven’t tried that. My morning isn’t bad so far. How’s yours? How awesome are you? ** Misanthrope, At a McDonald’s? No. I saw one at a Taco Bell once. A little one, but still. I hate those flat glass waterfalls for some reason. They just seem like some kind of height of boring tastefulness or something. Good thing you’re on the zinc, man. What if they sleep on the floor next to your bed? Nice: early June NYC trip with your pal Cindy. You have some very old fashioned friends, George. Which is not a bad thing, of course. I just don’t think I’ve ever been friends with anyone who would say or think something like that who wasn’t a friend of mine only because we were related by blood. ** S., Was that song about AIDS? I don’t think I ever paid attention to the lyrics. I tripped near a waterfall more than once. Very nice. Worked like a charm. Your wordage makes it sound like you’re having all kinds of fun, man. ** Right. To my great surprise, I have never done a full-fledged Jacques Rivette Day until the one today. How does something like that happen? It’s very strange. Anyway, Rivette is a god, and you will be a more something-or-other very positive person if you spend time with his work, if you haven’t, via or even not via my post. See you tomorrow.