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.
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.
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.
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 pleasing but powerless 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 shot, 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. I’ve only seen a few of his movies before and never can remember who he is – maybe after four hours of him as Frenhofer it’ll stick this time.
I just saw Emmanuelle Béart as Marie, and she’s been in two different movies called L’Enfer.
Jane Birkin was in Love on the Ground, Same Old Song, Kung-Fu Master, Keep Up Your Right and Blow-up.
Art dealer Porbus (right), Gilles Arbona was in similarly-titled La Belle Captive.
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.
“And the hand of painter Bernard Dufour.”
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.
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.
K. Uhlich in Slant, less reverential than most, says it “vacillates between genuine insight and didactic mystique-of-the-artist bullshit.”
EDIT: Forgot to mention I watched Divertimento a couple months later. “The hand of painter Bernard Dufour” barely appears in it!