I realized recently that 2016 will mark the 10th of this blog. Throughout the upcoming year I plan on re-posting pieces from the archive that might hold up. Among those posts, I planned on including some of the pieces on Jacques Rivette that I've posted throughout the years. Rivette died yesterday after a long battle with Alzheimer's. Someone in the loop of the director told me last year that he had good days, and he had bad days.
Besides Godard, Kubrick, and probably Lynch, Rivette is unquestionably the director in my lifetime that has had the most profound influence on me. Before I had seen Out 1 and Céline et Julie vont en bateau, I imagined them, based on Jonathan Rosenbaum's essays "Work and Play in the House of Fiction" and "On the Non-Reception of Two French Serials". The films surpassed all expectations. The conclusion of Out 1 (Episodes 7 and 8) remains the most stunning experience I've ever had in a theater, and I'm thankful that everyone can now see this supreme masterwork in essentially perfect editions on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming, thanks to Carlotta and Arrow.
And of course the last films of Rivette... What to say? Masterpieces one and all. (As Fred Veith pointed out on Twitter, perhaps now Studio Canal can be spurred into action to release the complete cut of Va savoir which ran for a single week in Paris circa 2002 under the title Va savoir+. Rivette expressed his dissatisfaction with the known version, which of course had been cut for contractual reasons of length.) (Does "late Rivette" begin with L'amour par terre? La belle noiseuse? Va savoir?)
It's difficult to eulogize an artist as great as Rivette and who has meant so much to me. I wrote on Facebook after hearing the news yesterday morning:
"RIP to the filmmaker I consider my master: Jacques Rivette. No-one besides Godard has influenced me, electrified me, more than Rivette. In many ways his 13-hour Out 1 is the film of my life, and I'm not alone in that feeling. His influence on some of my best friends in cinema is incalculable: no, on all of my best friends in cinema [Tag Gallagher called us "the Rivettniks"]: to paraphrase part of the meaning behind the film's title, when it comes to Rivette, you're either "in," or you're "out." In addition, he was one of the greatest film critics of all-time, and a locus, the secret sharer, of the Cahiers du cinéma of the '50s and '60s. Too much to say and process right now, though it was a certainty this day would come. He suffered from Alzheimer's over the last decade, and had to exit the shoot of his sublime final film early: 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup (retitled Around a Small Mountain in the US). An enormous loss, but his cinema will go on to live, and terrify, forever."
Andy Rector, in his own FB post, put it more beautifully, sharing this image from the set of Noroît:
"Rivette is gone. There was no greater writer on the cinema in its significant history. He invented gravity and was the center of it for film criticism in the 20th century... In intellectual operation and divination he possessed a direct line to cinematographic truths and deceptions, and their worldly (he was the most political) and otherworldly (the most spiritual) stakes, and then, tout à coup, in turn, as a filmmaker he put everything heavy into play, to tear the flesh of representation, gaily, terrifyingly, to change blood in mid-air, to restore the stage of cinema (we realized that without it we'd lost its very valuable terror, and would be slaves to all roles unless we could see and feel the stage underfoot again), the music of cinema (he literally showed music), the plots of cinema, the women of cinema..."
In a note to me he added: "My condolences to you, you've been the one, most committed friend to Rivette that I've known. Condolences to the ritual, to the affirmation without evidence, to the evidence, to the tearing weight and violence of the signifier, and the beating freedom when it comes undone."
Yesterday Pedro Costa sent Andy this wordless image, which Andy shared on FB:
Andy added at his blog Kino Slang a translated text by Jacques Rivette from Cahiers du cinéma no. 95, May 1959, in which Rivette reviews François Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups here.
Shortly afterward Andy shared the English translation of a text by Rivette from Arts in March 1956 that pertains to Eisenstein — "An Esoteric Order" — here.
He's also added to his blog my English translation of Rivette's short 1964 text on Georges Franju's Judex, here.
Dave Kehr's obituary in The New York Times is here. "Jacques Rivette, a French director whose challenging and often enigmatic work was revered by film aficionados, died on Friday at his home in Paris. He was 87."
The front page of the 30/31 January edition of Libération, the title of which can be translated as both "Obscure/Mysterious to the Core" and "[New] Wave to the Core":
At Slate France Jean-Michel Frodon has written a piece — here. "D’ailleurs, quand il n’en faisait pas, il y allait: aucun réalisateur peut-être n’aura vu autant de films que Rivette, et dans tous les registres. Il allait au cinéma, et il en parlait, de manière aussi remarquable que souvent inattendue, toujours stimulante. Et il riait." ("In the end, when all was said and done, there was this: Perhaps no other director will have seen as many films as Rivette did, and in all registers. He went to the cinema, and he talked about the cinema, in a way as remarkable as it was, often, unexpected — yet was always stimulating. And he laughed the entire time.")
Carlo Chatrian, artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, has written an excellent piece on Rivette translated in English at The Notebook, "(Three Reasons for) Remembering Rivette," which you can read here.
Anna Karina, star of Suzanne Simonin, la Religieuse de Diderot, was quoted in Le Figaro: "Le cinéma français perd un de ses réalisateurs les plus libres et les plus inventifs." ("French cinema loses one of its most liberated and most inventive filmmakers.")
Emmanuelle Béart, star of La belle noiseuse and Histoire de Marie et Julien, wrote on her Instagram, in a caption to a still from La belle noiseuse: "My heart breaks literally.. Something of my soul goes away with You my brother Jacques ..I do not find the sense anymore ....Hope everyone will watch your movies ..masterpieces."
Anne Diatkine and Elisabeth Franck-Dumas gather words from Béart and other Rivette accomplices in the aforementioned 30/31 January edition of Libération: here: "Le cinéaste le plus libre qui soit" ("The Freest Filmmaker There Could Be"). My English translation:
"Balibar, Béart, Bonnaire, and Bulle Ogier, Rivette's muses, evoke his cinema and its impact on their career."
JEANNE BALIBAR (Va savoir and Ne touchez pas la hache): "When I learned of his death, I thought of the figure of Pascale Ogier in Le Pont du Nord, confronting the lions, this figure so frail, so courageous, so singular: for me, that was Jacques. An immensely cultured individual (to such a degree that whenever he moved house, his books were inevitably strewn all over the floor), but with such a light-touch, never a pedant. At once joyful and despairing. As Kafka put it: "In spite of it all", the grand in-spite-of-it-all. He told me, "Every young French filmmaker has talent, except for one" — he was funny, generous, but never sentimental. He placed a lot of responsibility in his actors, but in a such a gentle way, at the same time so acute. I think the filmographies of the actors before and after Jacques Rivette just weren't the same; he changed their relationship to cinema, to life."
EMMANUELLE BÉART (La belle noiseuse and Histoire de Marie et Julien): "The first time I met him, he started talking to me, strangely enough, about a film by Édouard Molinaro, À gauche en sortant de l'ascenseur . Because Jacques spent his life at the cinema; he went to see everything. He also spoke to me about Elle magazine; he said: "I read Elle every week." He came by my house to talk with me about La belle noiseuse, explaining to me that he could understand very well why I'm refusing it — whereas I hadn't said a word, and he was [already] thinking of other actresses. I was very confused. He left; and then, being the big joker that he was, very erudite but also very shrewd, he called from the phone-booth downstairs to say that this film couldn't exist without me — and I accepted. During the shoot, there was no screenplay; Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent were writing as we were shooting the film, making gradual progress at nighttime, but Pascal and Christine were like two pocket-lights saying, 'Don't worry, it's just up ahead, a little bit further.' I had the feeling of being part of an artisanal workshop. With moments of intense joy and moments of anxiety where, suddenly, Jacques would stop working. The first time I had to take off my robe, I was trembling, and when it stopped, I said, 'Was it okay?' and he responded, 'Oh, I don't know, I don't know,' in his quiet voice. He was a mixture of uncertainty and natural authority, a prankster monk."
SANDRINE BONNAIRE (Jeanne la pucelle and Secret défense): "He's someone who has left his mark [a été marquant] on my career, like a tattoo; there's not much more to say than that. To pitch Jeanne to me, he met me at a café in Montmartre, left Régine Pernoud's book and told me: 'Read this book, and see what you like.' That's what was fantastic about him: he involved the actor in the writing so much. He got me involved in the direction of the project, what to keep in or not. We weren't preoccupied with the religious aspect, only with her faith in justice; we wanted to show an active woman of that period, surrounded by men, a woman for whom life has been very brief, the very concrete, human, sensual side of the character. On the set he was very precise, very cheerful, the entire time. He had a passion for actors, a very childlike side. We had problems with the weather, so we'd have to wait; I sang a lot and he sang along with us. He had a childlike smile; it's that smile that stays with me, and his head cocked to the side, he always had his head cocked, to the point that at the end of the film, I was tilting my head to the side too — in part because he spoke very softly. There are wonderful roles that you have a hard time letting go of, and that was one of them. I named my daughter Jeanne in memory of this beautiful adventure. We made a second film together. He tells me: 'You're a very good murderer; I'd love you to play a criminal.' I had a moral issue with that — I didn't want any gratuitous violence, and he heard me out. Right up to the end, he held a particular standard, and a universe, unto himself. Which is incredible. But he found it difficult to show his films. I'm grateful to Maurice Tinchant and Martine Marignac; they never let him down — he was able to go on thanks to them — they were unbelievably devoted."
BULLE OGIER (La bande des quatre, Céline et Julie vont en bateau, Le Pont du Nord, etc...): "It was a movie friendship, but like the movies, it was his life, it was a lifelong friendship spending nights talking about a film we'd just seen. We didn't see one another outside of shooting, but intensely saw one another during those six months and before starting a film. He did research, wrote about the characters on little scraps of paper, dreamt, asked me want I wanted, what colors, what sounds, what gestures. All of it with tremendous joy. Jacques is the one who made me make my real first film, L'amour fou, before which I hadn't yet met Barbet [Schroeder] and Alain Tanner. For the first time, I was in front of a strange camera, and this first time unfolded into a film hors norme, no script, no pre-established duration, that resembled nothing else that existed. It so happened that this film won me an award in New York and changed my life. I was very much constructed as an actress as a result of his films, from Céline and Julie vont en bateau to Le Pont du Nord, with Pascale, my daughter. Jacques wasn't afraid to put the two of us together; being together was a great happiness. Jacques is a new consciousness of the cinema. The freest filmmaker there could be: he allowed everything, didn't let himself get hindered by any limit, whether temporal or scenaristic. He wasn't afraid of taking inspiration for his stories from his protagonists (actors and characters). He had no fear at the moment of the shoot. Which is just to say he was as free as these films. Like them, he was constrained by no timetable, except only those involving movie showtimes. His death is a terrible shock. A void."
In the same edition of Libération, Didier Péron spoke (here) with Pascal Bonitzer, Rivette's accomplice and co-scenarist (with Christine Laurent). My translation:
"I think he was a bit of an outsider in the Nouvelle Vague and, at the same time, he was its soul, one of the most radical ones, and the most confidential. I worked with him for the first time in 1982, for this film project that went on to become L'amour par terre. As a screenwriter, I was still pretty much a novice. The development of the script was pretty light-handed; we'd meet at a café and speak a little about everything, films we'd seen, books we'd read; — the time devoted to the project itself was pretty marginal in the end. He conceived of work as a kind of game; he no longer wanted total improvisation and at the same time wanted the intrigue itself loosened up somewhat, only slightly defined. He springboarded from the idea of the théâtre d'appartement with actors playing out and jumping from one room/play to the next [d'une pièce à l'autre] inside of barren apartments with the spectators meandering in the middle of the action. He gave me the opportunity to experience something I was completely unfamiliar with, writing during the shoot, allowing me to be exposed to the actors, to the locations. This method had profound repercussions on the way in which I subsequently envisioned work on a screenplay. He was a very intuitive filmmaker who manipulated people a lot, with this method of quasi-improvisation and changing the script and dialogue on the spot, in the idea that the actors be unable to go too upstream from the text. He put everyone in a state of tension and danger, but it always stayed very fun because he was so charming. Rivette spoke very little about the past; the past held no interest for him; he always refused to publish his critical texts; the idea of retrospective, of museumification disgusted him; he lived only for the present and for the project of the film to come."
Also from the same edition: a piece by Luc Chessel titled "L'envers, pavé de bonnes inventions" ("The Inverse, Paved with Good Inventions") which you can read here. ("Le cinéma de Jacques Rivette, envisagé comme une forme de théâtre, représente les fictions du monde comme les produits des bifurcations du réel.") ("The cinema of Jacques Rivette, envisioned as a form of theater, represents the fictions of the world as the products of bifurcations of the real.")
Originally Posted April 24, 2006
Originally Posted December 7, 2006
Such is the case with Jacques Rivette's 250-minute L'amour fou (Mad Love, 1968), which I am able at last to assert as one of The Great Films. The time in my life when I needed this film and both Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating most, during a period of crisis, has passed, but the promises made by "the literature" (Rosenbaum, Hughes, Martin, Frappat) have all held true. Much of what I "imagined" them to be, great and secret shows, happened to conform to the actuality of the films, all present there in their images, intimations, forms, ideas — in their aesthetics and in their experiential principles — so either I had a few manic flashes of prophecy or Rivette is the filmmaker who has turned out to be as weirdly in touch with the disposition of me, one spectator, as he has proven to be with his actors on- and off-set. L'amour fou, Out 1: Spectre, and Céline and Julie Go Boating will always remain mysterious, profound enclosures of self so long as I live, even if they are no longer, strictly speaking, wholly "imagined" films. (Still, there will always remain that one bout inaccessible: Léaud's on-screen breakdown at the end of the work-print of Out 1, although maybe this is the form it's best that prized, diabolical piece of movie assumes.) However, until L'amour fou becomes available to anyone who wants to see it, and at any time, I'll share some description, clarification, reflection, of a moment, which is to say four hours, in time:
-The print. Beautiful. And the subtitles were good. I think everyone said a silent prayer that the opening '60s-era logo for New Yorker Films implicitly telegraphed: "...who no longer hold the rights for video versions of the film."
-Aspect ratio. The film was screened in 1.66:1, and the compositions looked dead-on. In her book Jacques Rivette, secret compris, Hélène Frappat lists the screen format as 1.85:1, so... I don't know? Hopefully any digital release will take a 1.66 frame, rather than a 1.85, is all I'm saying.
-The opening credits. The first appearance of Rivette's signature opening-credits "design template," which is to say all titles/names/words are announced in a white, Janson-esque font on top of black. The percussion on the soundtrack foreshadows the opening of the long version of Out 1, wherein the body exercises metamorphose into (gradually make themselves known as) dance.
-35mm and 16mm. When I was younger and had read about the film, I had either misread descriptions of the way in which the varying film-stocks interacted within Rivette's film, or I had read descriptions which were not written clearly enough for the "uninitiated" to understand. My confusion took the following route: The film switches between 35mm and 16mm footage? Does this mean two projectors are needed to screen the film? Does this mean it's in the lineage of the same materialist processes that make Godard's own Un film comme les autres so reviled by audiences? It was only later that I realized — and yes, seeing the film confirmed this — that the 16mm footage has been blown up to 35mm, and is incorporated into the montage. The film, then, is, as Frappat succinctly describes: "35mm." Also note that the film, and all its footage-as-shot, is black-and-white. (It also contains some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the 1960s; I'm thinking particularly of the close-up on Bulle Ogier's face while she reclines in the bathtub.)
-What one might talk about when one "talks about L'amour fou." First it might do to sketch out the premise: Jean-Pierre Kalfon is directing, rehearsing, a stage-performance of Jean Racine's Andromaque with a group of young and beautiful actors (which includes that freckle-shrapneled john from Godard's 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her). His wife (although the fact that they're not just a "couple," but married, isn't made explicit until around the 2h30m or 3h mark), played by Bulle Ogier (who, if I might interject another parenthesis, has never looked more beautiful than in this film in which her hair is cut in simple bangs, her costume is unadorned, and her eyes are so fetchingly mascara'd), descends from the stage during the opening rehearsal and leaves for home; Kalfon's direction to his wife, who has been cast in a primary role, fails to penetrate. Effectively having left the production for good, Ogier thereby assumes the role of homemaker and paranoid idler throughout the duration of the film. L'Amour fou is thus the document of Ogier's and Kalfon's relationship discord inside their apartment (not "marital" discord — whatever legalities are involved between the two, their relationship is something beyond the traditional assumptions inherent to the term), set against, and existing within a fluctuating state of exchange with, the tumultuous rehearsals inside the barren theater — which are being filmed the entire time by a crew headed by André S. Labarthe.
Bon. This is where things get complicated, and interesting. As such, I'll attempt to be as clear as possible with, however, no guarantees of success. — In L'amour fou and Out 1: Spectre, Rivette posits freedom and liberation, but the overriding frameworks represent absolute Control. Which in turn represents the structure, the entity, that most terrifies his characters, who flinch at shadows and break down in frustration. The montage of Out 1: Spectre is punctuated by black-and-white still images — photographs, if you will — of the film's characters in conversation, in solitary motion, etc. The images often do not correspond to any scenes, situations, present within Spectre itself; and these still images also "predict" situations that take place later in Spectre while seeming not to originate from any shot that exists within Spectre. The appearance onscreen of each still — accompanied by a loud electronic hum, and occurring at times seemingly key, at other times seemingly at "random," at their "own," in varying rhythm — arrives like an apparition that foretells fates and doom; that describes paths not taken, exhilarations and tragedies unknown. Yet these stills do not exhibit their own sentience nor (perhaps the opposite now, to arrive at the same ultimate idea) do they register an absolute blankness, a non-sentience. Who "shot" these stills, after all — when, and how? Rivette has described them as expulsions of sorts, hailing from some computer-brain outside the film-world, and indeed, they register as the prophecies of an extra-filmic intelligence, one which — most disturbingly, given the concerns of the "plot" and of the characters — has the ability to consider and enact permutations to the fiction; to variously control and concede to the fiction which it has nevertheless set in motion.
In L'amour fou, the extra-filmic intelligence or entity — which, let me reveal if it's not already clear, is not just Jacques Rivette, but a subconscious within and around Jacques Rivette — sets about juxtaposing Rivette's own 35mm film footage, shot under his own direction, with the 16mm footage of the rehearsals shot by Labarthe, and thereby ostensibly "not under" Rivette's direction at the time of the shooting. To further complicate matters, Kalfon — in character, no less, as a Kalfon-not-Kalfon — is "really" directing these actors (whom Kalfon himself, the "real" person, has chosen): for the production of Andromaque that they rehearse in L'amour fou is meant actually to be produced and performed in front of a general audience. To summarize: Rivette directs Kalfon, who in turn directs his rehearsals under his "own" auspices, which Labarthe-not-Labarthe (for he too is a character in the "diegesis" of Rivette's film) then captures on film, and which the 16mm announces stylistically as "documentary footage."
More profoundly than in perhaps any other film, L'amour fou provides a discourse (but, make no mistake, a discourse with a real story, this isn't mere cold "meta-text") on where the border exactly, or non-exactly, runs between fiction and reality in cinema, theater, and life. (More on this below.) In the shuffling of 35mm and 16mm footage, the film asks: "Who is filming the truer fiction?" "Can we see, either somewhere in the magnified grains of the 16mm image, or in its synchronized real-time cut-backs to the more expansive 35mm footage, the precise moment where the reality drops off and the fiction takes over, or vice-versa?" As a result, Rivette's fictional framework internalizes Labarthe's documentary framework, and the juxtaposition of the two stocks created in the editing process (where the entity exerts his influence!) subsumes even the 35mm footage shot by Rivette himself. A "super-story" thus results in which the documentary footage (like the revenant-stills of Out 1: Spectre) appears seemingly at the volition of the extra-intelligence, in dynamic rhythm and proportion (the latter the result of the duration of the footage used between each cut), and given the context of its positioning vis-à-vis the 35mm footage the very method of inserting the 16mm footage comes to mean different things at different times. (Particularly in the second half of the film, in which the couplings of footage stand in as metaphorical representations of the two very different and very similar people making up the Kalfon-Ogier duo; recall nuances of earlier conversations between couple and actors; throw Kalfon's direction into relief against his personal relationships with the actors and professional/personal relationship with Labarthe and his crew; provide a glimpse of where the various sexual affairs that take place between Kalfon and his actors begin and end; echo the "needs" expressed by Kalfon and Ogier "in character" during the razing of the apartment; and so on. As Jonathan Rosenbaum so often draws a connection between the concerns of both Rivette and Thomas Pynchon, I would contend that these footage-juxtapositions and their eventual proliferation of meaning beyond one's initial and naturally cursory sense that they "attempt to penetrate deeper into the reality of the rehearsals" underscore certain similarities with Pynchon's narrative aesthetic. Namely with regard to the way in which Pynchon tends to advance his fiction in each novel; no matter how similar the "trajectories" of his books, the reasons why his narratives progress the way they do changes from V. to Gravity's Rainbow to Mason & Dixon to Against the Day.) Because such a technique could so easily come off as arbitrarily, thoughtlessly employed meta-wank, or as the repetition of an idea whose one-time expression would have been times enough, the shifting, constant renewal of "meaning" becomes the very validation of its existence — an assertion, or implicit proposal, that parallels the dreams, hopes, and terror of L'amour fou's protagonists. A dialectic between formal elements, control and non-control, fiction and reality — a series of recursive nestings and escapes given hilarious (the nearly-sold-out audience at Moving Image howled with laughter and appropriately so!) and terrifying acknowledgement in the scene in which Bulle Ogier pulls apart one matryoshka doll after another after another after another, until she's left with a pebble-sized peasant. She later reconstitutes the shells into a towering Gaudí-esque cone on her nightstand, and like Rivette in his film makes (discovers?) something of mystery and wonder in all elements...
Yet perhaps the grand mystery of Rivette's cinema, one which supersedes and indeed envelops that of the liminalities of fiction and reality, is the relationship between creation and destruction, their own liminalities, and their vicinity to (and masked pantomimes as) the main gestures of life: love and self-fulfillment. Creation and destruction are after all the base elements of existence: the beginning and the end, generation and degeneration, alpha and omega. How to organize oneself, how to find structure amid chaos, reverse (deflect, distract?) what Pynchon calls "entropy"? Through fiction, through play. The work of theater encapsulates and recreates the "play" of childhood abandoned in adulthood. It lends order to the chaos it allows, to the chaos it creates. Human beings come together and separate, make love and fall apart.
-The climax. That's why the destruction of the apartment by Kalfon and Ogier near the end is so amazingly moving, particularly in retrospect. It's a scene that really must be seen to be understood, and that being after hours of having watched during the rehearsals a type of "formalized" theater take shape contrary to its best, quasi-sentient efforts. I won't make an attempt to describe the apartment-"wreckage" other than to say it's the purest expression of manic elation in movies, and the melancholy that follows is of a desperation that knows not yet what it has effected, is the fear that does not know its incarnation harbors still worse.
I would also mention that this "destruction" scene does not possess the kind of emotional tenor I had been expecting from my readings of Jonathan Rosenbaum. (Although since, sorry, I don't like to know the plots of films before I see them, it's possible I missed something in a skim.) For anyone expecting a recreation of the most violent freak-out imaginable in the 1967 disintegration of Jean-Luc Godard's and Anna Karina's marriage, you will not discover this — but something else instead.
Note however, that earlier on, the blood is real.
Originally Posted August 13, 2007
Image from The Wit of the Staircase by Theresa Duncan, July 10, 2007:
Originally Posted December 21, 2007
LALANNE/MORAIN: Is the reception that your films receive something that still burns you up? Were you hurt by the bad reception for Histoire de Marie et Julien [Story of Marie and Julien, 2003]?
RIVETTE: You always wish there were more of a response. But often it comes five, ten years down the road. As it turns out, for Marie et Julien, I'm starting to get a sense these days of some change of heart. But films today have a completely different life with DVD, which I think is the greatest. First of all because that's practically the only way I watch films anymore.
LALANNE/MORAIN: Which films have you seen recently on DVD?
RIVETTE: I've been really disappointed by the new films I've seen. I'm pretty appalled by the current American cinema, after having thought so highly of it. Scorsese has disappointed me a lot. I think that Coppola is a much more interesting filmmaker. When you see One from the Heart [Francis Ford Coppola, 1982] again, you're really struck by a very strong desire for cinema. I'm often struck today by the way in which filmmakers build this image of what their cinema is, and then are no longer willing to let go of it. Even filmmakers that I've liked a lot, like Clint Eastwood, have disappointed me. I couldn't bring myself to go see his two latest films. [Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)]
LALANNE/MORAIN: L'Amour fou [Mad Love, 1969 — which I've previously written about here] is a rather overwhelming film about the complexity, the instability of a couple's connections. But that question disappeared in your cinema, up until the two most recent films, Histoire de Marie et Julien and Ne touchez pas la hache where it becomes totally central again. Again we find the same, very naked pain, tied to love.
RIVETTE: (A long silence.) Yes. (Laughs.) But no, I'll respond. I shot L'Amour fou telling [Georges de] Beauregard, the producer, that I was going to make a film about jealousy, which wasn't entirely true. We shot it in five weeks, under very tight conditions. The film was marked by what I was discovering at the time in the theater, namely the performances of Marc'O, and his actors... Jean Eustache was doing the editing on Les Idoles [The Idols, Marc'O, 1968; starring Bulle Ogier, Pierre Clémenti, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, and Michèle Moretti] but also for the documentary on Jean Renoir, Jean Renoir, le patron [Jean Renoir: The Boss, Jacques Rivette, 1967], that I made in '67 for the Cinéastes de notre temps [Filmmakers of Our Time] series. I remember long discussions that we had on the question of true and false. It followed that the basic principle of the cinema should be reality, and what's more, truth. What I was opposed to was the idea that there were no truth other than fiction. In a certain way, L'Amour fou is a fiction-film relative to the sense that it proposed the truth-film: La Maman et la putain [The Mama and the Whore, Jean Eustache, 1973 — a.k.a. "The Mother and the Whore"]. The film is a direct autobiography, all the characters on-screen were literally people I knew from the period. Jean was writing with the will to be utterly faithful to the biographical material, to find the most exact equivalence to it. In Une sale histoire [A Dirty Story, Jean Eustache, 1977] this very volition becomes the film's subject.
LALANNE/MORAIN: In Out 1 , that 12-hour-long cult-film, you added to Marc'O's troupe two slightly younger individuals, invented by two of your associates in the New Wave: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto. It's really a great film about the '68 youth-culture without ever coming right out and saying so...
RIVETTE: Yes, I shot two years after '68 and, without ever making reference to the events, the characters never stop referring to what happened two years prior. As for Jean-Pierre's and Juliet's characters, they absolutely do not comprehend the world in which they're evolving. But around them, the secret society of the Thirteen ([Michel] Lonsdale, Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) never stops commenting upon what's happened. For me, it's clear, the film speaks of '68, or rather the immediate post-'68.
LALANNE/MORAIN: You were the only filmmaker of the New Wave to establish a bridge with the New York avant-garde of the '60s, and Warhol in particular...
RIVETTE: In the '60s, I kept going to the Cinémathèque. Which François [Truffaut], for example, no longer did. It's there that I discovered the New York avant-garde films. I remember discovering The Chelsea Girls [Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, 1966], which impressed me a great deal.
LALANNE/MORAIN: Did you meet Warhol?
RIVETTE: Once, at La Coupole, early in the '70s. I was meeting up with Bulle and we were in the same group of people. But he was very hemmed-in; spoke little; looked like a sphinx.
LALANNE/MORAIN: You shot Merry-Go-Round (1978), with Joe Dallessandro, thinking of Warhol?
RIVETTE: I found him magnificent in [Paul] Morrissey's trilogy, Flesh (1968), Heat (1972), and Trash (1970). But the idea was Maria Schneider's, who really wanted him to be her partner, because she had met him in Rome, I think... The shoot was very difficult. Maria wasn't doing very well; was in a physical state that didn't make work very easy; she was sleeping all the time or not at all; — without going overboard, I felt like Billy Wilder waiting for Marilyn [Monroe] to get ready without ever being certain that she'd actually show up. Very quickly, Joe understood that he'd get nothing out of this film. The relation with the production was very tense, we had a lot of illness crop up at the onset of the shoot. But he had a kindness to him, and an impeccable seriousness. Total respect for Joe Dallessandro.
LALANNE/MORAIN: After that film, you went on to Le Pont du Nord , which takes a hard look at the end of the '70s and the squashing of the utopias of '68.
RIVETTE: We shot that film in November of '80. At the time, we thought that Giscard had every chance to win a second term. You don't remember the end of the Giscard years with any certainty, but it really wasn't anything to pin a medal to. Ministers were committing suicide, were getting killed leaving their homes, all followed by a series of scandals, there was the affaire des diamants, of "sniffer planes" for locating oil despoits... Giscard's last year in power was delirious. Le Pont du Nord is a slightly polemical film about this deep malaise, this asphyxiated feeling that belonged to the France of the late '70s. But the film was released a few months after François Mitterand's victory. It was therefore already out-of-date, historically.
LALANNE/MORAIN: The passing of the baton between an individual contemporary to '68 such as Bulle Ogier and a succeeding generation that has no memory of the events, embodied by Pascale Ogier and her punk petit soldat silhouette, is tremendous...
RIVETTE: The idea was to refer to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Passing from the Parisian quartiers outward to the peripheral areas, within those zones that are slightly uncertain, but without ever leaving Paris. We also wanted to show everything that was in the process of being transformed, under construction.
LALANNE/MORAIN: Does the current presidential race interest you?
RIVETTE: It's amusing. If you can't laugh at it, then what will you ever laugh at. No, frankly, I don't have any big thing to say about it.
LALANNE/MORAIN: At what point your films took account of the political mutations inside of France has already been discussed somewhat. What do you think of the films that were speaking more directly about politics, the utopias of collective cinema around the time of '68, Jean-Luc Godard's Dziga-Vertov group?
RIVETTE: The films that you're speaking of were collective in the same way that the regime in Peking was a democracy!
LALANNE/MORAIN: In your connection with improvisation, you've always put into place a collective practice, whereby the actor takes part in the direction...
RIVETTE: In certain films, that's true. None of my films were built according to the same rules of the game, even if I'd resorted several times to a large degree of improvisation, where the actors in part had to invent what they were doing, what they were saying, and sometimes contributing all the way up to the story of the movie. Sometimes this got very risky, but each time in a different way. I've often taken the risk of keeping my mouth shut on my films, but never the same way twice. But in any case, I think that cinema is always collective, even in Bresson.
LALANNE/MORAIN: That's not what Anne Wiazemsky wrote in her recent novel [Jeune fille]...
RIVETTE: I've read that too, I really liked it. Still, we see that the shoot is somewhat collective. Sometimes, the donkey just would not respect what it was that Bresson wanted... (Laughs.)
LALANNE/MORAIN: Why do the credits of your films always indicate: "direction: Jacques Rivette" ["mise en scène: Jacques Rivette"] rather than "a film by"?
RIVETTE: I detest the formulation "a film by". A film is always at least fifteen people. I don't like "réalisation" very much either, which seems to me very portentous, maybe because its root is "reality." Mise en scène is a rapport with the actors, and the communal work is set with the first shot. What's important for me in a film is that it be alive, that it be imbued with presence, which is basically the same thing. And that this presence, inscribed within the film, possesses a form of magic. There's something profoundly mysterious in this. It's an alchemy that one procures, or does not. Early in the shoot, anything's still possible, but once you've made two or three steps, already you have to follow the course that the film has taken. But that's what's interesting. It's a collective work, but one wherein there's a secret, too. For that matter, the actor has his secrets as well — of which the director is the spectator.
LALANNE/MORAIN: Then is the cinema, for you, a collective work between people who have secrets?
RIVETTE: Yes. It's a little closer to that. And I think that the story of a film always ends when you talk about it.
Originally Posted December 30, 2010
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.
Emailed to B. Kite on October 17, 2007
With that, it's essential to end this post with two of the greatest pieces of criticism ever written, and about Rivette at that: B. Kite's Jacques Rivette and the Other Place, Track One and Jacques Rivette and the Other Place, Track 1b, which were originally published in Cinema Scope magazine in 2007.