Behold "the night of the third full moon..." — ?... a phrase from Jacques Rivette's earliest surviving/released film, the half-hour-long Le Coup du berger from 1956... a phrase which joins full-circle with the last image that will ever be signed "Rivette," the one at the close of his 2009 small, gentle, precious masterpiece 36 Views of the Pic Saint-Loup / A brief word about the title: "le coup du berger" translates literally as "shepherd's mate," which refers to a particular chess stratagem — I know nothing about chess (despite my love for Nabokov, for Kubrick, but that's the way it goes), I've devoted at least fifteen minutes, three times, to trying to learn the moves and how anyone even wins, but I've forgotten the moves every time and have never been able to make sense of how these moves all add up into a rule-set or a winning move — obviously I'm just not wired for the game — anyway, my understanding is that the "shepherd's mate" is the French term for something referred to as the "scholar's mate" in the U.S. and England and whatever — I learned this years and years back from someone, I can't remember whom, who in any case also struck out the caveat that the translation of the title in English as "Fool's Mate" was a false equivalency based on a misunderstanding of what the specific set of moves was, and he swore that le coup du berger — the shepherd's mate — was in fact equal to the scholar's mate, and not the fool's mate, and if whoever said this was who I think it was I take his word for it / Anyway, the cuckolded husband in the movie, Jean, is played by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (one of the founders of the Cahiers du cinéma... of course the film contains the requisite shot of a yellow Cahiers, laid on a nightstand and sporting a Magnani cover): thus, when we encounter the character portrayed by the same actor in 1971's Out 1 (one of the movies in the diagram I might draw showing the power-relationship among the works I consider the three greatest films ever made), we witness him hunched over a chessboard / Claire [Virginie Vitry] mentions to her husband Jean the ticket she claims to have found by chance... Jean (blankly suspicious of Claire's goings-on) claims to have no interest in the matter... this ticket would unlock the compartment in the station where she and her lover Claude (Jean-Claude Brialy) have 'planted' a fur that Claude has amorously gifted Claire — the idea being, with this ticket announced as merely 'found,' she can retrieve whatever 'turns out to have been left' inside the station-locker — from then on, she'll ostensibly be able to wear the fur around her husband with impunity / As Claire spins the yarn to Jean back in their apartment, his gaze shifts to the wall where hangs a painting built around his wife's body's nudity / Upon retrieval of the fur by the couple, Jean delivers the crushing blow: "A rabbit-skin." / Claire returns to Claude later on to tell him... that the suitcase was empty / And so the camera dollies back in wide long shot as Claire says goodbye to Claude, the long dining room table become an abstract figure, a gameboard / Cut to: — the evening party at Claire's and Jean's — the attendees include Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Robert Lachenay, etc. / Claire's sister (Anne Doat) arrives with the fur / Jean has played the winning move / — Rivette's film deals in admirably clear, 'contiguous' geography of space, despite its character austere and bourgeois, alternating shots held for a long duration with those that only fleetingly show, an effortless and unpretentious shuffle between master-shot and insert / My personal favorite among the film's lengthier shots appears within the party scene, where a young '56 Truffaut, cigar dangling from his mouth in the manner of miston pantomiming grown-up, begins to chuckle, overcome by the camera's presence
The frames from the film (not 'production-stills') placed above are stolen from various sites around the Internet; I couldn't get my DVD to correctly rip-for-grab. I'd have liked to present images from the party scene, particularly the image of Truffaut.
Previous pieces on Jacques Rivette at Cinemasparagus:
La Belle noiseuse 
Jacques Rivette: March 2007