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.

Camille: “Can I come during the day, from 5 to 7?”
Marcello: “The magic hour for lovers.”

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Simon Cinema (Michel Piccoli) isn’t doing too well, confined to his mansion-museum with his butler (Truffaut/Duras vet Henri Garcin) and best friend Marcello Mastroianni (as himself, sort of). Film student Camille (Julie Gayet, the girl with the giant gag vase in My Best Friend) is hired to talk with Simon about movies for 101 nights, and her boyfriend (Mathieu Demy) takes advantage of her position to cast the legendary Mr. Cinema in his student film.

Michel and Marcello:
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Garcin and Gayet:
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But the plot is just an excuse for some fun. Every star of French cinema shows up, major films are mentioned (nothing is discussed in any depth – no time). Anouk “Lola” Aimée, Catherine Deneuve and Robert De Niro take a boat ride. Sandrine Bonnaire appears as both her Vagabond self and Joan of Arc. Piccoli drops the Simon shtick and the white wig for a minute and compares cinematic death scenes with Gérard Depardieu (“that old devil Demy!”) before a poster of their co-starring Seven Deaths film…

Gerard and Michel:
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Sandrine d’Arc:
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Hanna Schygulla (Fassbinder films, Passion) and Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim, The Lovers) play Simon’s ex-wives. There are seven dwarfs. There’s a conspiciously Bonheur-looking sunflower shot. Alain Delon arrives by helicopter (reminiscent, though it maybe shouldn’t be, of the out-of-place helicopter in Donkey Skin).

Gayet with Alain Delon:
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Jeanne and Hanna:
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It’s all very light and playful. I’m sure I missed a thousand references, but it keeps many of them obvious enough to remain accessible (if you didn’t catch the meaning when a bicycle is stolen outside the mansion, someone cries “italian neorealism strikes again!”).

Mathieu Demy meets Fanny Ardant:
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The credits list how many seconds and frames were used from each featured film – impressive – and also all the stolen music cues.

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tour bus guy: “Glad to see you on form.”
Simon: “Form of what?”
“Why, you seem content.”
“Form and content, a debate even older than I am.”

At Cannes:
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NY Times: “While covering so many bases, Ms. Varda never makes more than a glancing allusion to anything, and at times the film is such an overloaded grab bag that it grows exasperating. Or even baffling; for unknown reasons, Stephen Dorff turns up in a pantheon of great Hollywood stars.”

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LA Times: “Michel Piccoli plays Monsieur Cinema, who embodies the history and spirit of film, and in particular, that Fabulous Invalid, the French motion picture industry itself. (Since Varda is such a playful director, Piccoli is sometimes simply himself.) Monsieur Cinema may have been inspired by the director of the landmark Napoleon, the late Abel Gance, whom Piccoli resembles when he puts on a long silver-white wig.”

Lumiere brothers:
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Doctor Belmondo and Jack Nance:
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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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A vacationing Marianne and Nicolas visit the estate of long-idle painter Frenhofer and his wife Liz, where an unguarded look by Marianne gets Fren’s artistic urges raging once more. Nicolas tells Fren that Marianne will pose for a painting without asking M.’s permission first, but she comes anyway, with an angrily determined look on her face, to spite Nic. First few scenes when she goes naked in the studio are just astounding. Frenhofer goes about his work, setting up a drawing table, sketching some lines (Rivette, in his usual fashion, shows us the entire artistic process, omitting nothing for the sake of runtime), while M. has this incredible internal struggle visible on her face. It probably helps a lot that the film was shot in order, so the character and the actress become increasingly comfortable with her nudity as the audience does too.

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Fren’s relationship with his wife Liz proves to be complicated. She was once his model, and the very painting he’s attempting to achieve with Marianne was once begun and abandoned with Liz. In her conversations with Fren and Marianne and Porbus the art dealer (with whom she once had an affair) and in her movements and her uneasy looks we get a wonderfully conflicted character. She’s never showy or artificial – the only one here who fits that description is Marianne’s boyfriend Nicolas, who grows increasingly absent. He comes back towards the end when his sister arrives to artificially force a closure to Nic and Marianne’s long limbo-vacation. Marianne, either dedicated to the painting or still stubbornly trying to prove her mettle, refuses. When she sees herself in the finished painting, sees what she’d been trying to hide while apparently so exposed, Frenhofer watches her expression, and what he sees convinces him to hide the painting forever behind a brick wall and stay up all night creating a substitute, a less powerful work which pleases Porbus and sickens Nicolas. I wonder if Frenhofer’s falling in love with Liz prevented him from ever finishing the painting a decade earlier, for fear of scaring her, or if his falling in love prevented him from being able to see that part of her which would enable him to finish it. Either way, a very satisfactory ending, the masterwork completed but Frenhofer, a greater man than Nicolas, hides it for the well-being of the two women.

Simply filmed, mostly in long takes in authentic locations. I mean, the shots aren’t Tarr-long, or even Rivette-long, just longer than most films – though there are authentically long insert-shots of sketches and drawings created from scratch before our eyes. I watched with headphones and found the sound of Fren’s pen scratching across his notepad to be almost unbearable. Rivette’s usual favorite sound effect of footsteps on a wooden floor can be muted when convenient, as when Liz comes into her husband’s studio and watches unnoticed.

Frenhofer = Michel Piccoli – Simon Cinema himself, of lots of films by Ruiz, Oliveira, Godard, Bunuel, Hitchcock, Varda, Demy, Resnais, Malle, Clouzot, and Mario Bava.
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I just saw Emmanuelle Béart as Marie, and she’s been in two different movies called L’Enfer.
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Jane Birkin was in Love on the Ground, Same Old Song, Kung-Fu Master, Keep Up Your Right and Blow-up.
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Art dealer Porbus (right), Gilles Arbona was in similarly-titled La Belle Captive.
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Nic’s sister Julienne, Marianne Denicourt (left with David Bursztein as Nic), later starred in Haut bas fragile and played Victor Hugo’s wife (?) in a French TV biopic of Balzac.
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“And the hand of painter Bernard Dufour.”
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Towards the end, when Frenhofer is through sketching and has started to paint, we see the first slash of red across a canvas. There’s more red during the next painting session, and when we glimpse the bottom of the “true” completed painting from under a sheet it’s mostly red). The false ringer painting is almost all light blue.

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J. Heilman:

The film begins unassumingly in a hotel courtyard where we see a young man stealthily sketching some seemingly oblivious English-speaking tourists. As Rivette’s camera continues to pan, however, we find that our casual artist is actually the subject of another’s art. A woman on the hotel’s balcony furtively snaps a photo of him, but is noticed by sketcher, who becomes visibly irate. As soon as he confronts her, though, it becomes immediately apparent to us that most of this incident was a ruse. The two artists are lovers, and their coyness was entirely put on. Spurned by the excitement of their charade, they retire to the bedroom. The stunt even continues a bit farther than planned when one of the tourists watching this amorous French drama unfold says to another in mock culture shock, “Well, what do you expect?” This seemingly frivolous episode resonates throughout the rest of the film, since it manages to say much about the relationship between an artist and subject, the secretive, similar natures of art and love, and the need to sometimes create an environment where ever-fleeting inspiration might strike. It’s these themes that come to the fore during rest of the long journey that La Belle Noiseuse takes.

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K. Uhlich in Slant, less reverential than most, says it “vacillates between genuine insight and didactic mystique-of-the-artist bullshit.”

Won the grand jury prize at Cannes, but didn’t have quite enough of that barton fink feeling to take the golden palm. Did not take the nation’s award shops by storm – lost the Cesar to some Gérard Depardieu flick, and wasn’t nominated for an Oscar or much else. But it did put Rivette’s name back into public circulation.

I watched two-hour edit Divertimento a couple months later.
“The hand of painter Bernard Dufour” barely appears in it!

Music by Igor Stravinsky, and the name Divertimento was stolen from the short version of one of his works. An in-joke for Stravinsky fans. That fits in with the Balzac references and the fact that the entire project was based on a joke, a flip fake answer Rivette would give when asked about his next project.

Jacques Rivette:
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