Weird and delightful movie with a Gang of Four/Va Savoir feel, but more so, made with the usual suspects: Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent on script and Nicole Lubtchansky editing, plus Christophe Pollock (Class Relations, In Praise of Love) shooting.

We follow three women: Louise (Marianne Denicourt of La Belle Noiseuse), Ninon (Nathalie Richard, “Madame” in Never Let Me Go, also Irma Vep), and Ida (Laurence Côte of Gang of Four). Louise just got out of a hosiptal of some sort and inherited a house from her aunt. Ninon has short blonde hair, works in moped delivery. An hour in, both of them have met Roland (Andre Marcon, king in Joan the Maid), a slightly mysterious (but not too mysterious – he runs a business making theater sets down the street) stalker who knew Louise’s dead aunt and has knowledge of a secret club (of course he does). But the club really exists, and seems honestly sinister, and I’m impressed that Rivette has finally given in to his secret-society teases (though come to think of it, the one in Don’t Touch The Axe was pretty effective), but then it turns out to be kind of a joke. Meanwhile Ida just creeps about, or sits at her library job trying to remember the title of a song in her head.

A girl (Louise) and a gun:

Intrigue: Louise has a stalker, actually a bodyguard named Lucien (Bruno Todeschini, thief of Va Savoir) hired by her dad. Ninon steals cash from work and gets away with it, though her coworker who was manning the register gets fired. Roland has secret papers proving that Louise’s dad is a crook. There seems to be a lot of wordplay that isn’t translating in the subtitles. And halfway through, the movie becomes a musical!

Ninon and Louise find something to dance about:

The girls visit a nightclub called Backstage, where Vivre Sa Vie star Anna Karina is a singer (and Ninon is an electrifying dancer). It’s here that Louise gets pulled into the secret club, where she is chosen to kill another member, then given a gun filled with blanks. Bodyguard Lucien is falling for Louise, Ninon is involved with Roland, and Ida has a weird connection with Anna Karina – I’m afraid I missed the point of Ida’s role besides the joy of watching Laurence Côte. Actually that might have been the point of the entire film.

Adrian Martin on the first musical number: “Haut bas fragile is about the dream of everyday life metamorphosing – via only the slightest nudges of stylisation – into the idealised realm of art, and specifically popular-musical art. Rivette’s films, with their obsessive walkers and mannered talkers, have frequently circled this moment of ignition, but here he goes all the way: love expresses itself in ironic, playful postures and swooning falls.”

J. Rosenbaum:

All three actresses created their own characters — a procedure Rivette also followed in Out 1 and Celine and Julie Go Boating. And just as Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto are solitaires in Out 1 and Julie is one in Celine and Julie before she meets Celine, Ida in Up Down Fragile might be described as someone who’d like to be in a musical but can’t because she doesn’t yet know who she is. The adopted daughter of provincial parents whose letters she doesn’t answer, she’s obsessed with fantasies about who her real mother might be and with tracking down a song from her early childhood, of which she remembers only fragments. (Eventually her obsession leads to a meeting with Sarah, a cabaret singer, played by Anna Karina, whom we’ve already seen in scenes with Ninon and Louise.) Narratively and musically, Ida’s in a perpetual state of becoming — the only creature to whom she’s attached is a cat. Meanwhile the other lines in the fugue are the processes by which Ninon and Louise acquire romance and friendship and thereby work their way into musical numbers, all of them various kinds of duets.

A rare director cameo:

Finally I got a chance to watch this, said by some to be Rivette’s finest hour (errr, four hours). I can’t say I agree, but I came in with absurdly high expectations, and having seen nearly all of Rivette’s other films. So its endless theater rehearsal scenes held no surprises, but the movie perked up considerably in the last hour. As usual, I’m feeling more strongly about the film after reading a hundred online articles about it. And unlike in Gang of Four, I actually picked up on some connections between the theater-rehearsal dialogue and the actors’ lives.

Claire (Bulle Ogier in her first Rivette film) lives with boyfriend Sebastien (Jean-Pierre Kalfon, a lead in Love on the Ground). Sebastien is directing a play – Racine’s Andromaque (it’s always some ancient text), which Bulle quits at the start of the film (I think right near the beginning of rehearsals), spending the rest of the movie at home not wanting to do much of anything.

The play rehearsals are being filmed in 16mm for a documentary about the theatrical process – by director Andre Labarthe (a Cahiers critic turned Cineastes/Cinema de notre temps director) and cameraman Etienne Becker (Jacques’s son, he shot Phantom India and parts of Le Joli Mai), playing themselves. So the actors in the film are playing actors in a play, interviewed in character by Labarthe. And Becker’s footage of the play rehearsals is edited into the film proper (which is mainly shot in 35mm by Alain Levent, cinematographer of The Nun).

The amour of the title is between Claire and Sebastien, though it doesn’t seem that way until the three hour mark, at which point Sebastian’s frustrated love life and his play rehearsals have been at a standstill for so long, one of them has to explode. So he takes a few days off from the theater, goes home, and he and Claire get naked and fou, finally tearing through the wall of their apartment to have sex at their neighbor’s place.

Other interesting bits: the play and documentary directors get dinner together and talk about Jerry Lewis. The nature of the sound changes when the movie switches cameras from 35 to the 16mm documentary, but both feature loud, clompy footsteps on the wooden stage. Sebastian’s awful clothes always clash with his awful wallpaper.

Movie takes place over two and a half weeks – title cards display the date. Before the first card, some shots (which make no sense at the time) show Claire on the train, and the wrecked apartment. Claire walks out of the play on the 14th. On the 17th the documentary crew interviews Claire’s replacement Marta (Sebastian’s ex-girlfriend, whom he tries to sleep with again) and Claire starts following Sebastian through the streets after rehearsals.

The 19th: Sebastian is interviewed about playing Pyrrhus himself while directing the play. He sleeps at the theater, gets a call saying Claire tried to kill herself. He returns home, bringing her a record with a dog on the cover. 22nd: She goes looking for an Artesian Basset like the one on the cover, almost steals one from a guy.

24th: Claire in full spy mode, watching out her window and reporting everything into a tape recorder. A weird moment, a shot of two chairs going in and out of focus. Claire invites Marta over, tells Sebastian she wants a divorce, and hooks up with her ex Philippe. The first real crazy scene (if you don’t count the chairs): when she says she’s leaving, Sebastian wordlessly starts cutting up all his clothes.

26th: Claire is back with Philippe, someone at the theater tells Sebastian that rehearsals are becoming impossible. He goes home. 28th: full-on fou. Seb and Claire draw all over then destroy their wallpaper, chop through a wall and make love everywhere, until she suddenly says she’s tired and that he needs to leave. He goes to the theater.

31st: Claire is cutting herself, he tells her to stay. 1st: She is free, has a friend call Seb from the train station to tell him that she’s left. “I feel like I’ve suddenly woken up.”

The movie gets more complicated when you read about its production. Sure, Rivette is directing a feature fiction film, but it’s based largely on improvisation – plus Jean-Pierre Kalfon is really directing the Racine play. He even cast the actors. One of them is Francoise Godde, who played a domestic maid in The Nun. Also in there somewhere is Michel Delahaye, “the ethnologist” in Out 1. Michele Moretti (Out 1‘s Lili, leader of the Thebes theater group) plays (or IS) Kalfon’s assistant on the play. And the documentary filmmakers are doing their thing independent of Rivette’s feature, getting in close and conducting their own interviews while the 35mm camera stays distant and unobtrusive.

16mm:

35mm:

According to a Greek mythology site, the play is from 1667 – “The structure of Racine’s play is an unrequited love chain,” and it’s “the most often read and studied classicist play in French schools.”

Shooting Down Pictures – who gets credit for getting there first, and linking me to a bunch of articles from which we quoted the same things:

Sebastien, made self-conscious of his directing technique after watching rushes of the doc, adopts an increasingly hands-off approach to the production, effectively casting the production adrift in endless rehearsals without a clear sense of focus. … [the film] seems implicitly to be an inquiry on the limits of what straight shooting of spaces and interactions can tell us.

Director’s assistant Michele Moretti and a tired-looking actress:

Rosenbaum:

The rehearsals, filmed by Rivette (in 35 millimeter) and by TV documentarist Andre S. Labarthe (in 16), are real, and the relationship between Kalfon and Ogier is fictional, but this only begins to describe the powerful interfacing of life and art that takes place over the film’s hypnotic, epic unfolding. In the rehearsal space Rivette cuts frequently between the 35- and 16-millimeter footage, juxtaposing two kinds of documentary reality; in the couple’s apartment, filmed only in 35, the oscillation between love and madness, passion and mistrust, builds to several terrifying and awesome climaxes in which the distinctions between life and theater, reality and fiction, become virtually irrelevant.

He also says the movie may have been inspired by the “psychotic breakup” of Godard and Anna Karina.

K. Uhlich:

The result is a mish-mash of ideas and situations both brilliant and inane: a good stateside comparison, coincidentally created around the same time, is John Cassavetes’s Faces, which, like L’Amour Fou, is a jagged-edge black-and-white psychodrama prone to rather unbelievably grand gestures in constrictively intimate settings.

Peter Harcourt:

The films ends with the same shots that had opened it, with the sense of separation and emptiness — Claire travelling away on a train; Sebastien as if defeated, in his apartment; the characters of the play, in costume and make-up, as if ready for a performance; and then that slow tilt down from those few spectators in that huge arena onto an empty stage as we hear, as if from some other space, a baby crying — as we had heard as well at the opening of the film.


Mirror-mirror

Rivette 1975:

Shooting a film should always be a form of play, something that might be seen as a drug or as a game. Even during the ‘breakdown’ scenes near the end of L’Amour fou I was not being tragic as many people thought. I was joking, having fun, and so was Bulle. It’s just a movie, not some kind of cinéma-vérité!

Rivette from an epic, essential interview for Cahiers in 1968:

I hadn’t forgiven myself for the way I had shown the theatre in Paris nous appartient, which I find too picturesque, too much seen from the outside, based on cliches. The work I had done on La Religieuse at the Studio des Champs-Elysees had given me the feeling that work in the theatre was different, more secret, more mysterious, with deeper relationships between people who are caught up in this work, a relationship of accomplices. It’s always very exciting and very effective to film someone at work, someone who is making something; and work in the theatre is easier to film than the work of a writer or a musician.

The film itself is only the residue, where I hope something remains. What was exciting was creating a reality which began to have an existence of its own, independently of whether it was being filmed or not, then to treat it as an event that you’re doing a documentary on, keeping only certain aspects of it, from certain points of view, according to chance or to your ideas, because, by definition, the event always overwhelms in every respect the story or the report one can make out of it.

I didn’t feel I had the strength, or even the desire, to make a film where the woman would really be mad. So this would only be a crisis, a bad patch, as everyone has. And that’s when it became clear that she would be no more mad than he was and even that of the two he was clearly the one who was more sick. The main feeling was also expressed in a sentence from Pirandello that I happened to find when I was reading a bit before starting to write anything at all, which I had even copied out at the beginning of the scenario: ‘I have thought about it and we are all mad.’ It’s what people commonly say, but the beauty is precisely in stopping to think about it.

I believe more and more that the role of the cinema is to destroy myths, to demobilize, to be pessimistic. Its role is to take people out of their cocoons and to plunge them into horror. … More and more, I tend to divide films into two sorts: those that are comfortable and those that aren’t. The former are all vile and the others positive to a greater or lesser degree.

With its four-hour length (Rivette called it “only a little longer than Gone with the Wind, though without the bonus of the Civil War”), it was a flop for producer Georges de Beauregard, who made some fifteen movies I’ve heard of before L’Amour Fou and only one after. The producers butchered together a two-hour version, which Rivette wants nothing to do with. He once spoke of making a finished edit of the 16mm documentary. But it makes sense that the documentary was never finished, just as the play was never produced – he’s more interested in the process than the finished work (see also La Belle Noiseuse).

This was the same year as Army of Shadows, My Night at Maud’s, The Swimming Pool, The Milky Way, at least two by Chabrol, Z, and Bresson’s Une Femme Douce.

B. Kite on the ending:

Sebastien, meanwhile, has learned the perils of true collaboration. Having initiated a process which assumed its own momentum, he now finds himself trapped inside it, inhabiting the shell of a departed life. Mourning is its own paranoia, and Sebastien is left locked in Claire’s old role, shut up in the apartment, listening to the recordings she had made to summarize the findings of her investigation, conducting his own investigation into absence and loss.

P. Lloyd:

The ghosts of Hitchcock, Lang and Preminger, which have haunted the New French Cinema for the last ten, years, have finally been laid to rest, by L’Amour Fou. The classical tradition has outlived its uses; but Rivette rejects that tradition, paradoxically, only because he absorbed its principles, received with thanks all that it has had to offer.

From Robin Wood’s excellent article – obviously I need to get his books:

Clearly, the length of our cinema program is closely bound up with the more obvious conditions of the current phase of consumer-capitalism: alienated labor, the five-day week, the 9-5 job, the nuclear family, a norm common to all levels from employee to executive, necessitating that (weekends apart) “leisure” be packed into a 2-3 hour slot between the time the kids are put to bed and the “early night” required by the next day’s toil. Otherwise, in one of those ugly and brutal, but entirely taken-for-granted, phrases that characterize our culture, “time is money”; and if we are going to surrender four hours of our “money” to watching a spectacle, we must be repeatedly reassured that the spectacle we are buying was extremely expensive, that we are purchasing a visibly valuable commodity. Rivette’s films, on the contrary, are perceptibly cheap … Nor is the length of the films validated by complexities of plot, large numbers of characters, “epic” events. What is the plot of L ‘Amour Fou? Sebastien tries to produce Andromaque; Claire goes mad. Rivette could easily have told it to us in fifteen minutes and spared us the superfluous four hours. The “unjustified” length of the films, then, represents an act of cultural transgression. The question, “Why this length?,” should immediately provoke a reciprocal one: Why the standard length? Why should we automatically expect our movies to last between 90 minutes and two hours, feel cheated if they are less and demand particular justifications if they are more?

We have, then, Rivette making a film of Labarthe shooting a documentary of Kalfon producing a play by Racine reinterpreting a Greek myth.

I know of no other film that so powerfully communicates the terror moving out of one’s ideologically constructed, socially conditioned and ratified, hence secure, position and identity, into… what? Which is precisely the question with which the film leaves one: a political question if ever there was one.

A tiny film for Rivette, near the end of his career, with his old collaborators. Centers around two people – Jane Birkin (not as great as she was in La Belle Noiseuse) and Sergio Castellitto (greater than he was in Va Savoir) – who meet at a tiny circus, near the end of its life.

From the commentary: “One of the things that attracts Vittorio to the circus troupe is his sense that they have no director. He sees an opportunity, a possible role for himself.”

The first scene is magic: Jane is broken down on the road en route to re-joining the circus after many years away (due to the on-stage death of her boyfriend) when non-circus-performer Sergio, acting more like he belongs in the circus than anybody, stops and fixes her car, with no dialogue at all. After that, Sergio remains somewhat magical, but Jane’s story becomes something more scripted and typically movie-like than usually found in a Rivette film. Apparently it’s all full of interesting metaphors, and after reading Sam’s comments I’m sure I should give it another shot, but it didn’t strike me as hard as Don’t Touch the Axe, or practically any of his others, for that matter. It’s not like I understood his intentions in making Joan the Maid or the symbolic meaning behind Va Savoir, but I loved them nonetheless, and this one lacked that immediate power. It was, however, his funniest movie since Le Pont du Nord (not counting Up, Down, Fragile, which I haven’t seen), and that’s more than I can say for Rohmer’s final film, to which Sam admiringly compared this.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, just not as much as I expected to. Some great non-naturalistic lighting, some good awkward stage scenes (a bizarre clown bit that revolves around broken dishes), and my second favorite moment after the wordless open, Jane Birkin walking the tightrope, first towards the camera with the tightrope at bottom of frame, so we can see she’s truly performing the stunt, then it pans up slightly as she turns around, so she walks back with the rope itself out of the shot, the titular mountain (the French title is roughly 36 views of Saint Loup Peak) in the distance.

When someone in the film world dies I don’t always run out and watch one of their movies – only when it’s someone meaningful to me, like Claude Chabrol, Dennis Hopper and Eric Rohmer. I once considered holding a monthly “death of cinema” screening, inviting people over to watch the work of whoever had died that month (there’s always someone), but as with all my plans to watch movies in groups, it fell through – nobody liked Rohmer’s final film, so Katy suggested I not do that anymore. But Maria Schneider warrants a memorial screening because she starred in one of the few Jacques Rivette films I haven’t yet seen, and I happen to have a nice subtitled copy of it handy.

Maria Schneider at dinner:

Schneider was allegedly exploited in Last Tango in Paris, backed out of Caligula, fired from That Obscure Object of Desire, and not up to the task of leading a Rivette picture, which probably explains her replacement in certain sequences by a different actress. But she’s still revered for her part in The Passenger and for being so naked in the early 70’s. This was actually Schneider’s second movie titled Merry-Go-Round – the first was in 1973, a (West) German remake of La Ronde.

Schneider’s costar is Warhol actor Joe Dallesandro, the houseboy/lover in Blood For Dracula. Yes, this is weird casting for a Rivette movie. But production-wise we’re in familiar territory, with the Out 1/Duelle team of Schiffman, de Gregorio, Tchalgadjieff and Lubtchansky (X2). By the end we’ve got triple-cross conspiracies, psychics, secret weapons, assassinations and meetings in the park, so the Rivette touchstones are all there. It’s also surprisingly good-looking (if not up to Duelle/Noroit standards) for such a reputedly troubled film.

Joe and Maria:

The story goes that Maria’s father is presumed dead and some four million dollars left in his care are unaccounted for. Maria’s elusive sister Liz (Danièle Gegauff, a producer on Out 1 and star of a single Chabrol film) summons Maria and Joe (Liz’s boyfriend) but fails to show up herself, so these two meet and go on an adventure together. Liz shows up briefly, along with a bunch more characters, each of whom want to help either Maria or her possibly-alive father, or more likely, want a share of the money. Most suspicious is Shirley (Sylvie Matton, whose husband directed her and Udo Kier in his adult horror Spermula), who is possibly either Liz’s best friend, the father’s ex-lover, Joe’s sister or none of the above,

Maria’s sister Liz with Suspicious Shirley:

The movie seems to fits neatly in the Rivette filmography, with on-camera musicians like predecessor Duelle, and a couple of characters chasing around the country trying to solve a possibly imagined mystery a la follow-up Pont du Nord. But there are some wrinkles. The grasp on the mystery is soon lost and Joe and Maria ramble, their relationship growing increasingly unpleasant, then the plot returns with a puzzling vengeance in the last half hour. Plus there are unexplained fantasy scenes, with Joe and a suspiciously Maria-like girl (played by Hermine Karagheuz, Marie in Out 1) chasing each other through forests and deserts, with appearances by snakes, rifles and a mounted armored knight.

Marie/Karagheuz:

Jean-Francois Stevenin (“Max” in Le Pont du Nord) is in an early scene with the two sisters, and seems to kidnap Liz (cue Walter: “the girl kidnapped herself”). Seemingly trustworthy lawyer-type Renée (Francoise Prevost of Vadim’s segment in Spirits of the Dead) and the mysterious Shirley put our duo up to collecting the key and combination/location of the father’s safe in order to retrieve the money (this is never done, as far as I could tell). Psychic Mr. Danvers (Maurice Garrel, Philippe Garrel’s father, played Emmanuelle Devos’s dying father in Kings and Queen, also amusingly in a movie called Noli Me Tangere) pretends to be the post-plastic-surgery father of the sisters. Liz is rescued (or “rescued”, depending if we believe Walter) by Maria with Renée’s associate Jerome (Michel Berto, Honeymoon in Out 1, also in a Robbe-Grillet film) armed only with a pipe. In the end it either all goes wrong, or all goes according to plan, as Liz is shot by a sniper and Maria unloads a pistol into poor Mr. Danvers.

Mr. Danvers, we hardly knew thee

Whenever the movie just doesn’t know where to go, it cuts to either the live musicians or the fantasy scenes. I wasn’t sure what to make of them, but they grew on me. I liked the bass-and-clarinet soundtrack, the colorful, mobile cinematography. The physical action, fist-fighting and such, were pretty inept, especially coming right after Duelle starring the sprightly Jean Babilée. Movie was made to fulfill contractual obligations after the collapse of the proposed four-part series that yielded Duelle and Noroit, but then was a huge failure itself, so I’ll bet the exec producers wished they’d just left Rivette alone.

The musicians: Barre Phillips at left worked on the Naked Lunch soundtrack with Ornette Coleman, and John Surman at right has put out 20+ albums and hopefully changed his hairstyle:

Cinema-Talk:

It just has the right amount of disregard for plot that nothing seems remotely forced. This is almost unheard of in Rivette’s world. For as great as his other films are, they (almost) all seemed to be dragged down by unnecessary elements that were thrown in at the last minute. Here, everything is so completely natural (one cannot stress this enough!) that the 150-minute running time feels fairly short.

The two sisters, plus friendly assistant Jerome:

Rivette:

We started work with the two actors, and after 8 days, things were going very badly. It was like a machine that, once set in motion, must continue running despite changing regimes, forced or arbitrary accelerations, until the energy was all burned up, exhausted. That’s not at all how we filmed L’Amour fou, even if there too, the spectator feels he’s witnessing an encounter. … It’s an exaggeration to say that we placed Maria and Joe together in front of the camera and waited to see what would happen. We had a starting point of course, and then we made up the beginning of a story, with a father who had disappeared, but all along we told ourselves, this is just a pretext for Maria and Joe to get to know each other. I like that idea: two people get together because a third, who has arranged to meet them, does not show up. There have no choice but to get to know each other. It’s a situation I imagined in the context of the Resistance. Thinking about it again later, I think it was the subject of Robert Hossein’s Nuit des espions. And since I didn’t feel like making a film about the Resistance or the terrorist underground, it became that more banal situation, two people convoked by a third who is only the sister of the one and the girlfriend of the other. But since the relationship between Maria and Joe rapidly became hostile, we were forced to develop the story-line; from a mere pretext it took on a disproportionate importance. Maybe that gives the film a certain vagabond charm, I don’t know, but it really is a film with a first half-hour that’s quite coherent, and then it searches for itself three times, three times searches for a way out.”

Renée:

E. Howard:

The bulk of the film consists of Ben and Léo wandering around the French countryside, ostensibly searching for clues to Elisabeth’s disappearance or the safe combination needed to get their hands on the missing money. What they actually do is mope around a lot, wander through abandoned houses, and joke and fight and patter, improvising goofy bits like the one where Ben mocks the conspiratorial obsession with the number three by counting off increasingly lengthy numbers consisting entirely of threes. In the film’s best scene, the duo takes a break for dinner at an abandoned house whose refrigerator is improbably well-stocked: they crack open cans of sardines and make salads and drink the juice from jars of cherries, sitting across from one another at a long table with candelabras in the center. Léo jokes that it’s a bourgeois meal, and the two of them have fun playing hide and seek from behind the candle flames, and soon the conversation turns into a lighthearted seduction where it’s obvious that the actors are having as much fun as the characters.

Our heroes, looking tired and frumpy in the morning light:

Rivette again:

I like a film to be an adventure: for those who make it, and for those who see it. The adventure of this filming, I must admit, was a bit fitful: the course which was established at the outset was corrected many times, in response to contrary winds, lulls, or gentle breezes. I only hope that the finished film, with all its detours, keeps something of the dangers of the crossing, of its uncertainties, of its unclouded moments-even if, at the end, one notices that perhaps the voyage has been circular: like a “merry-go-round.”

Another freewheeling Rivette film, with its 16mm look and protagonists running throughout the city of Paris in the midst of a game with ill-defined rules, seeking to unveil a conspiracy, like a scaled-down Out 1.

Two girls meet on the street, run around a Paris that seems to be populated only by themselves and various conspirators, and get caught in a game, possibly of their own making. There’s more energized music than usual for Rivette, with drums and accordion and strings. Whirling camera, 360-degree pans, many shots of local monuments also recall Out 1, specifically its final shot. But this film has a lighter touch, also bringing to mind Celine & Julie Go Boating, with its playfulness and our heroines’ mysterious bond to each other. The dialogue is a bit new-age, the actions are somewhat improv-theater, it seems to have been shot entirely in real locations, and perhaps in a hurry, since I caught the boom mic a few times.

Films in the film:

Knife-wielding Pascale vs. Kurosawa’s Kagemusha:

The Silent Scream, a spooky mansion flick:

The Big Country with Gregory Peck – in French it’s called “Wide Open Spaces”, as Pascale leads the claustrophobic Bulle into the theater for the night, to sleep close enough to the screen that she can’t see the walls

And on the way out of the theater…

Bulle Ogier stars in her fifth Rivette film along with Pascale Ogier, Bulle’s daughter, who also starred in a Rohmer movie and something called Ghost Dance before dying of a heart attack at age 26. Bulle, just out of prison, has a crippling claustrophobia and cannot step indoors, not even into a glass-enclosed phone booth, without feeling ill. Pascale, apparently homeless, hears Bulle’s story of getting caught up with the wrong crowd and sets out to keep it from happening again, tailing Bulle’s boyfriend Julien (Pierre Clementi of The Conformist, The Inner Scar).

Pascale seems to be on to something – they steal Julien’s briefcase and discover all sorts of newspaper articles about kidnappings and killings, and also a map of Paris that has been sectioned off in a spiral pattern which reminds Bulle of a “very frightening game” she used to play called the Goose game. They find a sort of key to the map on a murdered man in a cemetery and start to identify the “trap squares” in the game, beginning with places they’ve already been: Prison and the Tomb, then they proceed to play Paris like a game, hoping to survive all the trap squares and win the game.

Besides Julien, they keep running into a balding man (Jean-Francois Stevenin, the teacher in Small Change), who sometimes seems to be a companion of Julien’s and sometimes schemes with the girls independently of Julien, warning Bulle that the people responsible for sending her to prison are after her again. Pascale calls this man Max, her name for all the city’s conspirators. For example, when Bulle wonders about the explanation for the dead map-carrier in the cemetery, Pascale responds “The Max had a bullet in his guts – that’s the explanation.”

Discovering the murdered, bewigged Max

Each “trap” location presents a new challenge. At one, Pascale, who has a compulsion to carve the eyes out of advertising posters, is faced with a whole wall of those. At another, Pascale is in a fight with a white-haired Max who leaves her in a giant cobweb until rescued by Bulle, and at a third Pascale has to defeat a giant dragon, played by some sort of amusement-park ride with an added flamethrower.

While Pascale lives in this fantasy Paris, Bulle’s adventure seems more real and dangerous – she’s given a gun by Julien and keeps having to figure out whose side she’s on. Of course once a gun is introduced into the movie, someone has to get shot. Pascale kills a Max and seems unrepentant, and then Julien kills Bulle, telling her “I loved you.” But the movie’s sympathies have turned towards the inner life of Pascale – she meets Max on a bridge over the river, and they spar together, appropriately practicing “Katta – a combat against imaginary enemies.”

I was tempted to see the sparring scene above as evidence that Pascale was working alongside the Maxes all along, but no, I think she’s just an erratic character. Anyway, it wouldn’t have taken a city-wide conspiracy including Pascale to defeat the fragile Bulle.

Good one by F. Ziolkowski:

Marie’s belief in a great love with Julien, the real at the end of her quest, will eventually be fatal for her. It is Baptiste’s ability to “roll with the punches” which will perhaps save her, but at what cost? As one of the Maxes puts her through a karate exercise and tells her to fend off “imaginary enemies,” the cross-hairs of a surveillance device (a rifle scope? a camera?) appear on the screen. “They” are now being watched by others, perhaps simply by us. That is, it may be that the answer to the riddle of the labyrinth — its last door — is simply the screen on which the actors’ shadows appear.

The movie got a hateful review in the Times, and was even dismissed by Senses of Cinema. Fortunately it’s not my job to analyze its quality in relation to other Rivette films, or even other films in general – I was just along for the ride, which I enjoyed.

Insight from J. Rosenbaum:

The file of clippings concerns specific scandals of the Giscard d’Estaing regime, and the locations refer to various municipal corruptions associated with that period (e.g., the ruins of slaughterhouses in La Villette which were built and then demolished before they could be used, due to safety hazards). Rivette has indicated that the film was made prior to the French elections and with the pessimistic expectations that the same regime would remain in power; so the unexpected election of Francois Mitterand obscured and blunted part of the film’s intended impact. Rivette conceived of Marie as a continuation of the anarchist character played by Bulle Ogier in Fassbinder’s The Third Generation (1979), after she gets out of prison. Her claustrophobia was occasioned by the film’s cut-rate budget, which led to the decision to shoot the film exclusively in exteriors.

Ziolkowski again:

[Paris] for the Surrealists was not only a magical place, it also became a living organism, a protagonist in its own right, complete with motivations, deaths, rebirths, etc. … The group’s fascination with the myth of the labyrinth led them to name their most prestigious and influential review Le Minotaure. … All the elements of Surrealism are here once again: the double, the lions of the Place Denfert-Rochereau which seem ready to spring to life at any moment, the mysterious stranger who crosses one’s path in the middle of the night.

Follow the gun.

From Julien…

… to Bulle …

… to Pascale

Julien again (different gun)

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.”

Bulle and Julien atop the Arc:


Paris s’en va (1981)

“Paris Goes Away,” a half-hour movie made from scenes and outtakes from Le Pont du Nord. A narrator tells us about the Goose Game, often repeating as the images also double back on themselves. It’s a mini-Spectre version of the feature, more lightweight, with more lingering shots of monuments and less danger and conspiracy. The narration seems to imply that Bulle’s flask is her game token. Rivette’s only other short that I’ve seen, Le Coup du berger, also referenced games, if that means anything.

Le Lion Volatil:

Pascale:

Bulle:


Jacques Rivette, Le Veilleur (1990, Claire Denis)

“Artists have a portion of basic villainy, even the greatest of them.”

Agnes Godard (still Denis’s cinematographer two decades later on 35 Shots of Rum) shoots critic Serge Daney (he took over Cahiers after the Bazin/Rohmer era) in conversation with Rivette, in Parisian cafes and fields. Divided into two parts, “I – Day” and “II – Night.”

“Do we see his painting or not?” Jacques discusses preliminary thoughts on Le Belle Noiseuse before he had worked out the story or approach. Le Pont du Nord gets the most discussion time, strange, since he’d made three movies since then (Love on the Ground doesn’t get a single mention). I wasn’t crazy about the music in Le Pont du Nord so I’m glad to hear that he spent very little time selecting it.

Rivette with Serge Daney:

I wouldn’t call it a great film (sorry, Claire Denis) but it’s a great interview/conversation, worth watching again, not like a throwaway DVD extra. Loooong shots include the silences between questions, perhaps in deference to Rivette’s own long-take style. He tells of his early years, first arriving in Paris, meeting up with Rohmer, Truffaut and Godard and going to work for Cahiers with Bazin. He discusses duration in a “post-Antonioni world,” saying movies used to have pre-determined beginnings and endings and filmmakers were free to fill the middle with events, but now it seems there are fewer rules and everything takes longer to say. When asked what he’s enjoyed lately in theaters he highly recommends a Sandrine Bonnaire film called Peau de Vache.

“I don’t want to separate, to split things up. I know a lot of filmmakers, whether consciously or not, who have this notion of splitting the body into bits. Not just the face, it can be the hand or any part of the body. I always want to see the body in its entirety. I don’t have the temperment, the taste or the talent to make heavily edited films. My films focus more on the continuity of events taken as a whole.”

Time out for an interview with Le Pont du Nord’s Max, Jean-Francois Stévenin, including his entire scene as Marlon in Out 1.

Rivette again: “My feeling is these people who have been affected [by his films], and who have these individual ways of showing that, they constitute a kind of widespread secret society. We’re obviously not talking about lots of people, unfortunately for the film producers!” He talks with his hands, striking wonderful poses.

In part 2, Bulle Ogier is along for the ride, interjecting a word or two, only getting the camera to herself for a few minutes.

Serge: “When you came back to earth with Pont du Nord in the early 80’s, it was with the feeling that we adapt to things as they are, we stop tempting fate or playing Prometheus and we come back to the real world. And we remember that the beginning of the 80’s were roaring, euphoric, entertaining – very explosive, in fact. And your film takes that on board. We can feel something quite intentional in the processes which make up Le Pond du Nord and allow you to tackle the 80’s.”

Rivette’s vogue poses:

Rivette:

It’s a time when we feel such a decision has been taken. Just as Bulle said at the end, ‘I’m alive.’ As far as I’m concerned, and I have the impression that, strangely, it concerns – I won’t say everyone, there are always exceptions – many filmmakers of my generation and subsequent generations. After Out, it seemed impossible in my films to talk about the contemporary world, what we call the real world, and at that time I wanted more than anything to work on fiction, fantasy fiction films. I didn’t shoot them all because the first project was, after Out and Celine & Julie, was a film we wanted to do with Jeanne Moreau [Bulle: “Phoenix.”] and Juliet Berto and Michel Lonsdale, which was a story based on the Sarah Bernhardt myth loosely mixed up with Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. And what came next were stories that were all different with one thing in common: the total refusal of France in the seventies. It was something I suddenly didn’t want to see anymore. And after a series of events, more or less successful films – some were far from being completely successful, unfortunate films, at least Noroit and Merry Go Round were, that were hardly seen anywhere. They were shaky films, it’s true. When I went to see Bulle and said ‘We have to do another film together and I want to do it with you,’ it was the idea that we hadn’t put these bad times behind us, that they may well continue, and we had to come to terms with it but in order to do that we had to turn it into fiction, to put it in a film. And that’s why, in Pont de Nord there’s this insistence – that may appear anecdotal ten years after – on the affairs or scandals at the end of the seventies, such as the Debreuil affair or the suicide or non-suicide of Boulin or the killing of Mesrine, that sort of stuff. As symptoms, but strong symptoms. And we shot the film, at least from my point of view I began the film, not in this atmosphere of eighties euphoria we mentioned but with the impression of being in a country – France – that was stuck. Stuck, because of a lot of things we won’t go into here – everyone remembers. But it so happened that this feeling of being stuck was so strong that it brought about a certain unblocking.

An unusual Rivette film. First thing I noticed was that it’s strange to see an in-film performance of a finished play in front of an actual, paying audience. I thought none of his plays-within-a-play ever made it past their planning stages. The characters go about their business in a straightforward way. Minor mysteries from the past crop up, some coincidences seem almost magical, but the weight of the drama never sets in. Even the lighthearted Celine & Julie felt weighty. Finally towards the end (during the drinking duel in the rafters) I accepted that Va Savoir is purely a comedy, and a very fine one.

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From the shot above, which is used in the poster art, I’d assumed there’d be more Feuillade influence. People upon Paris rooftops conveys Feuillade, and with Rivette’s ever-present sense of mystery I thought a feature-length homage would be wonderful, but that’s not what we get. Oh well, there’s always Franju’s Judex.

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The play performed is the Italian “Come tu mi voui” by Luigi Pirandello, being performed (in Italian) in Paris for a week. I think we see a scene from each night’s performance, each time a different scene, and not in chronological order. They’re probably arranged to comment emotionally upon that day’s off-stage action, but I’ll have to watch it again to be sure (I also missed the on/off-stage connections in Rivette’s previous film Secret Defense). That’s Camille (the lovely, angular Jeanne Balibar, of Don’t Touch the Axe and Comedy of Innocence) in the middle with her lover/director Ugo (Sergio Castellitto of Around a Small Mountain) at left. Their relationship is strained with her return to Paris after three years away, now closer than ever to her long-term ex Pierre, but ultimately they’re good together.

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I’m getting out of order here, but Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffé, at right, of Lemming and Prénom Carmen) ultimately duels Ugo over Camille. I was never quite sure if Ugo is a nice guy, since he acts like such an ass when first meeting Pierre, but this clears it up. His dueling method of choice is heavy drinking while standing high in the rafters above the stage, but he repeatedly tells Pierre not to look down because there’s actually a safety net below them. This scene made me extremely happy.

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While in Paris, Ugo seeks a lost play by Italian author Goldoni. He checks with an autograph/letter collector (filmmaker Claude Berri), but to no avail. Funny casting a filmmaker in this role, since thirty years earlier Rivette had Eric Rohmer playing a specialist librarian in Out 1.

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Ugo bounces to this family, descendants of a friend of Goldoni’s who maintain a library of the playwright’s works. The woman (Catherine Rouvel – oh my god, she’s the always-nude girlfriend of the scheming guy in La Rupture) invites him to stay as long as he likes, but after he can’t find the unpublished play all week, he suspects it was secretly sold by her thieving son Arthur (Bruno Todeschini, at left, of Code Unknown and Haut bas fragile)

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Arthur is also meeting secretly with Sonia (Marianne Basler, who costarred with Gabriel Byrne in a WWII drama), coincidentally the live-in girlfriend of Camille’s ex, Pierre. The affair would be harmless but that Arthur steals a precious ring from Sonia, which Camille sleeps with him in order to steal back.

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Finally, there’s Arthur’s sister Do (Hélène de Fougerolles of Innocence, maybe in the scene with Edith Scob in Joan the Maid). She helps Ugo search for (and ultimately find) the play, getting ever closer to him as Camille gets closer to her ex (before he locks Camille in a closet). Peace is restored in the end with everyone happy and dancing, the viewer comforted in knowing that the only really crappy character, Arthur, in debt trouble, will soon find out that his stolen ring is gone.

I only noticed this because of the similarly oval-shaped mirror near the end of Out 1:
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Reportedly there’s an extended cut called Va Savoir+, but little is known about it besides that it had a one-week run in Paris. A message board posts claimed it “wasn’t even an official director’s cut, just an alternate cut Rivette put together for a few screenings, mostly for himself and the other actors,” so I’m not going to worry too much.

Trounced at Cannes (along with decade-faves Mulholland Dr., I’m Going Home, What Time is it There?, In Praise of Love and The Piano Teacher) by a Nanni Moretti film. That must be a good one!

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Filmbo:

In Va Savoir we are spectators instead of participants. And while there are moments when this pays off rather humorously — take for instance the detective work of finding the missing ring in the flour jar or the duel between the rival male suitors — it falls short of being a top-notch Rivette experience. … there was also the more palpable concept of a theater company producing works that only a few are interested in seeing, accompanied by a quest to find a lost work by an obscure writer… should we be thinking of the oeuvre of anyone in particular?

I. The Battles begins with Jeanne having had her angel visitations already, trying to convince local government to take her to the king, and halfway through the film gets to the battles she led against the English. II. The Prisons is half battles (which is good; we didn’t get enough battles in part 1) and half British prisons (with hardly any of the trial/execution scenes that Dreyer would focus on). All set 1429-1431, except for an odd intro in 1455, with Jeanne’s aged mother, a nun, telling of her daughter’s unjust execution.

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It’s a Rivette film, all right. Long shots with medium natural lighting, deliberate camera movement, same typeface as always on the titles, brief blackouts between scenes, same list of collatorators in the credits. Quite a follow-up to La Belle noiseuse… I’ll bet nobody saw this coming. It works very well to Rivette’s strengths, though, and stays focused on Jeanne and her quest without gimmicks and without getting caught up in the scale of the story and the hundreds of side characters.

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Sandrine Bonnaire, a decade after Vagabond and a year before The Ceremony. I didn’t recognize anyone else besides a cameo by Edith Scob. IMDB says Jean de Metz, the guy who leads her to the king’s court, was in Hurlevent, King Charles (André Marcon) is appearing in Rivette’s new film, and Quentin from Out 1 played Pierre Baillot (who was that?).

with Edith Scob:
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Joan is charismatic and persuasive, but acts realistic. Her supernatural visions aren’t shown – we know Rivette isn’t above showing supernatural visions, but here he has Jeanne speak of them regularly without portraying them as a reality to the audience.

Unfortunately, this four-hour film has another two hours which I can’t see at the moment. Looks like Artificial Eye has released it on DVD. You know, my birthday is coming up…

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J. Rosenbaum:

…this is a materialist version of a story that offers no miracles, though it does offer a pertinent attentiveness to gender issues (such as the nervousness and sexual braggadocio of the soldiers who sleep beside Joan) and a Joan who’s girlish as well as devout, capable of giggling as well as experiencing pain; when she wins over the dauphin the scene is pointedly kept offscreen, and when she’s interrogated by priests about her faith she could almost be a graduate student defending a dissertation.

with the king/dauphin:
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C. Fujiwara:

As Rivette and Bonnaire present her, Joan suggests a novice movie director protected by a seasoned crew that humors her as much as obeys her. (Army life in this film is more sitting around than fighting; in this respect it’s like a film shoot.) She doesn’t do miracles; she just uses common sense and takes the initiative.

The missing link between Celine & Julie and Marie & Julien (with some Gang of Four thrown in).

Jane Birkin (under a decade before La Belle Noiseuse but looking two decades younger) and Geraldine Chaplin (eight years after Noroît) are working as actresses with Silvano (Facundo Bo) in a play performed in Silvano’s actual apartment. Play was ripped off from famous/rich playwright Clémont Roquemaure (Jean-Pierre Kalfon of L’Amour Fou and some Philippe Garrel movies). One day he’s in the audience, invites the three to perform a new play in his house, based on the sordid love triangle of himself, hanger-on magician Paul (André Dussollier, the realtor from Coeurs), and the now-missing Beatrice.

G. Chaplin and Paul:
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House-fellow Virgil (László Szabó of Godard’s Passion and Made in USA) doesn’t have much to do until the end, when he shares wacky scenes with Birkin. He spends his free time translating Hamlet into Finnish (predicting Hamlet Goes Business points out Glenn Kenny).
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Third-wheel Eléonore – Sandra Montaigu of Hurlevent:
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There’s not actually a ton of love here, but there are lots of triangles… the film is rich with triangles. And magic and mystery – the girls see visions and premonitions in mirrors and through keyholes. And the mansion is visually insane (D. Cairns calls that first screenshot the “streaky bacon” room). And the premise gives us enough of Rivette’s performance/identity motif for at least two movies… I mean, the actor characters are portraying the other characters in the film… it starts to fold in upon itself and collapse like Bjork’s Bachelorette video. That the movie even has a conclusion (public performance of the play culminating in Beatrice’s mysterious reappearance) seems moot. This is three hours gladly spent in Rivette Country… not his best movie, but one of his most Rivettian. Like his Wild At Heart.

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This was the full three-hour version, happily out on DVD. Jonathan Rosenbaum says: “Rivette’s 1983 two-hour Love on the Ground is a minor work, but at a 1989 Rivette retrospective in Rotterdam I saw a superior three-hour version–the first I knew of its existence. Rivette told me on that occasion that it was the only version he believed in; he implied that the release version merely honored his original contract.” JR later echoed that even the three-hour version is a minor work, and others would agree. Senses of Cinema calls it “a mere footnote”, Slant says “precious, lifeless, and ultimately meaningless.” Ouch. But J. Reichert at Reverse Shot, G. Kenny and D. Cairns all liked it, and I’m throwing in with them.

I haven’t found any online mention that the two lead actresses are named Emily and Charlotte – the names of the two famous Brontë sisters. Rivette’s next film would be an adaptation of Emily’s Wuthering Heights.

Barbet Schroeder makes an appearance after spending 20 years producing French New Wave films. He’ll spend the next 15 directing Hollywood thrillers.
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I was looking forward to this, due to my recent Rivette obsession, but didn’t expect to love it, since it’s a period piece about upper-class people unable to declare their love for each other because of societal restrictions, and I tend to hate that kind of story. It’s nice to watch fave Rivettian actors Bulle Ogier and Michel Piccoli and Barbet Schroeder (all sharing a scene) but they’re hardly in the movie and they play gentle, wise elder friends and relatives, with a bit of dialogue but no passionate acting showcases. I got my Rivette themes and trademarks served up: conspiracies, secret rooms, performance (explicitly at the convent, but throughout as the two toy with each other), real locations with creaking wood floors, oceanside drama, but all enslaved to this book-to-film adaptation of Balzac – something that I thought Rivette just said he’d never do in the DVD interview on Belle Noiseuse, that he dances around Balzac in his film writing (that one and Out 1) because a direct adaptation would be impossible. In the story, Montriveau is one of the notorious 13, but the name of the group is never stated here. Anyway, we also get very good performances from the leads – Guillaume Depardieu, lookalike son of Gerard who once played his dad in flashback in Les Misérables, with his false leg used to great effect here on the wooden floors… and Jeanne Balibar, who I don’t remember from Code 46 or Clean, and haven’t seen yet starring in Va savoir.

Not much outward passion to the movie, emotions seem detached (I know, that was the point, sorta) but it has a quietly affecting ending aboard Montriveau’s ship after he breaks into the convent and finds the Duchess dead. The plot being easy to follow, I started paying attention to nerdy cinema stuff like the quality of light (all supposedly from sunlight and candles) and the sound (music used very sparingly, as usual). Sound was rough because of the loud hissing and gurgling noises coming from the ceiling at the Landmark, and picture was even rougher since the film was projected out-of-focus (except for the left third of the screen, which looked lovely). So it was easier to measure the quality of light than, say, the details of costumes and decor. I’m not much for decor anyhow.

Definitely closer to Hurlevent (Wuthering Heights) than to anything else I’ve seen Rivette do. At least I learned how Duchess of Langeais is pronounced (vaguely: “lawn-jay”). This Balzac story was previously filmed a few times, from a 1910 lost silent to a 1995 TV version adapted by the co-writer of Goya’s Ghosts.

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Excellent analyses found on other sites:

E. Howard:

Games are the film’s central conceit, in fact, whether they be word games, mind games, literary games, games played between appearance and feeling. The game being played at the narrative level takes place between a General and a Duchess … But this is only one game that Rivette is toying with, and he plays an entirely different one with the audience, a game of subtle winks and sly nods that continually disrupts the placid surface of the narrative … This narrative disruption is mirrored in the way the General’s story to the Duchess, about his time lost in the desert after escaping from the enemy’s imprisonment, is continually interrupted, usually by the listener’s short attention span and her tendency to divert the flow of the conversation just as the story is reaching a critical juncture. This results in the General’s story being doled out across three successive evenings that they spend together early in their relationship. On the third night, as they settle in to continue the story, Rivette frames the Duchess in a tight closeup as she asks her would-be lover to finish the tale. At this moment, she turns a sly sidelong glance directly into the camera, maintaining eye contact with the audience, as though to include them in the game.

This game of narrative interruptus is also carried through in the way Rivette uses the text of the film’s original source, a novella by Honoré de Balzac. This is a rigidly faithful adaptation… with texts from the novel periodically included as intertitles to highlight certain moments or get at the characters’ internal states. The titles are also used to convey the passage of time, which is parceled out in scrupulously precise measures: “one hour later,” “twenty-two minutes passed,” “she waited twenty-four hours.” These titles often seem to abruptly cut off the action, sometimes flashing up on screen when, after a long scene of near-stasis, a character is right in the middle of completing the scene’s first real movement or action (most often: leaving the room). The passage of time, like everything else in the film, is subject to Rivette’s subtle humor. After the Duchess kicks her friend out of her house, a title informs us that it one hour passes (a very common interlude), and surprisingly in the very next scene there’s the General again, still standing in her parlor, walking around it aimlessly, looking like only five minutes has passed since she ordered him to leave. Rivette’s use of these titles is obviously very sardonic and mannered, as when he uses a long series of images of the Duchess at a party as though it constituted a clause in between two dashes in a sentence: “the Duchess searched for him —” followed by the visuals and then, when the dangling phrase had almost been forgotten, “— in vain.”

J. Romney:

Characterised as a sort of Napoleonic wild beast ill at ease in the tameness of Restoration Paris, Armand – a general newly returned from Africa who initially fascinates married duchess Antoinette with stories of his exploits – is associated from the start with the great outdoors, prowling Mallorca’s windlashed ramparts, while Antoinette is first seen doubly imprisoned, in nun’s cowl and behind a grille.

The film is largely set in a series of enclosed salon and boudoir interiors, an overtly theatrical domain in which Antoinette is a surpassing mistress of mise en scène. Preparing for Armand’s first visit, she arranges herself for maximum effect on a canapé, in discreet déshabille, ordering her servant to lower the lighting (the thematics of light and heat later extended in the fireplace that Armand pokes with barely contained sexual frustration, and in the brand with which he threatens Antoinette).

As actress, Antoinette is skilled at the well-timed entrance and exit, whereas Armand habitually arrives too early, or storms inopportunely into the star’s dressing room. It is part of Armand’s revenge that he at last masters both mise en scène and performance, in a startlingly excessive scene that replaces Antoinette’s poised comedy of manners with a lurid melodrama: in it, he plays a menacing Byronic ravisher, supported by masked men hovering around a brazier. This sudden eruption of violence in the middle of an analytical drama may seem wildly incongruous, yet the tonal discontinuity comes directly from Balzac’s story, and Rivette achieves the seemingly impossible in making such a disjunction work convincingly on screen. The violence at the heart of the story, together with its cautionary-tale aspect, is foregrounded by Rivette’s reversion to Balzac’s original title for his novel. The reference is to a veiled warning that Armand gives Antoinette, the axe being the English one that beheaded Charles I – the implication is that the reckless cause their own downfall. In reality, however, Armand himself figuratively wields the axe that will destroy his own chance of happiness.

D. Kasman:

How strange that a filmmaker who through the years has so loved process, often in terms of acting and theatre, of seeing the expression of things worked out awkwardly before us, and conspiracy, in terms of the hints that everything out there, out of sight and out of the film frame, may be connected, has decided to adapt a reserved, 19th century historical chamber romance. Oh, but with such a surprise we then get to engage in the pleasures of the hunt! For then we find things like this: how is the navigation of social rules and norms—a very real thing with a very allusive existence—like the theatre and how is it like a conspiracy? Well, it is not without reason that Rivette opens the film at the melodramatic peak of the couple’s aching separation—the Duchess a nun on a remote Spanish isle and separated from the General by the convent’s metal bars—and then transitions and flashes back five years to the couple’s meeting and affair through two sweeps of a theatre curtain. The stage then is not the actual island (filmed on location), but is the interiors of the Restoration period, in all their glory, wood boards creaking like an empty stage. …

It is like a game played again and again with different moves but the same results, the repeating drama inside the haunted house of Celine and Julie transposed to thinking, feeling participants. The drama exists in a hanging kind of closed-off world, all frustrated performances that are almost content, as the playfulness and acting gets close to true expression, true connection. But something holds everyone back, holds the drama back, holds the love back, and gradually both General and Duchess become obsessed with this vague, menacing limitation, a mysterious stopgap to happiness that can neither be seen nor surmounted.

Whew, I love all these themes that get read into Rivette’s work. I always wonder whether he’s aware of them and consciously shaping his films in this way, or if the themes are unintended and they are more or less created by the critics, or if they’ve just become a part of his creative process, so much that he doesn’t think about them as consciously as he used to, and they become more subtle and have to be drawn out by a viewer well familiar with his previous films.

D. Ehrenstein:

The film is “dryly funny. Especially so when “the 13” make their appearance in the last act, looking more like a left bank version of the Keystone Kops than a fearsome secret society.