2016/17: Watched the new blu-ray and updated the 2008 writeup below.
Juliet Berto and Bulle Ogier are rival goddesses, only on Earth for a short time unless they can possess a magic stone. Juliet hires Hermine Karagheuz (Marie in Out 1) to track some people connected to her brother Pierre (Jean BabilÃ©e, a dancer not in a lot of films) – first an acquaintance named Sylvia who dies at the aquarium, then Pierre’s on-again girl Elsa (Nicole Garcia of Mon oncle dâ€™AmÃ©rique, now a director). Poor Elsa has a key role in the middle half of the movie, then gets killed trying to defeat Bulle and is barely mentioned again. Pierre himself has been possessed by Bulle and also infected by the stone, which he hands off to Hermine, who figures out how to use it to banish the two goddesses, Hellraiser-style, at dusk.
Juliet Berto in her serious vengeance suit:
So much camera movement, most of it (per Rosenbaum’s set-visit notes) on tracks, which seems too complex to be possible. Music is improv piano and pianist Jean Wiener is on set, in the shot, even in places where he obviously does not belong. Bulle has an accomplice, Elisabeth Wiener (daughter of the pianist) who disappears a few scenes into the movie.
Bulle and Elsa go for a walk:
David Ehrenstein has the inside scoop on literary and filmic references: “Our innocent heroine (Hermine Karaghuez instantly recalling Betty Schneider in Paris nous appartient) recites lines from Cocteauâ€™s play [Knights of the Round Table] as a kind of incantation, much as Geraldine Chaplin reads lines from Cyril Tourneurâ€™s The Revengerâ€™s Tragedy in NoroÃ®t.” Rivette screened The Seventh Victim for the cast, and D.E. also mentions Bressonâ€™s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne as an influence.
Frederique Fatale: Juliet Berto at the aquarium
Hermine discovers Sylvia dead:
David Cairns puts it best:
Lots of creaking in this film! As the dolly trundles over wooden floors, a cacophony of straining wood announces its presence. Since the film has a very live soundtrack, there was obviously no way to eliminate these extraneous sounds, so they kind of make a mild virtue of them. The camera movements, coupled with the moves of the actors, are extremely elegant and elaborate, and the symphony of sounds that accompany them all can be seen as atmosphere … Jean BabilÃ©e is an amazing physical presence, not just when he does his acrobatic feats, but just in his general movements, which are all like dance, even when maybe heâ€™s just moving around so you canâ€™t see how short he is next to the women.
Showdown: Elsa and Juliet…
vs. Bulle and the fabulous BabilÃ©e
Rivette discussed how each of the four planned films (this was written as part two) would be set during the same forty days of Carnival, two cycles from new moon to full.
During shooting, each â€œunitâ€ (each block-sequence) will be subjected to a method designed to break down not only conventional dramatic techniques but also the more recent conventions of improvisation with all the prolixities and cliches it entails (hesitations, provocations, etc.), and to establish an ecriture based on actions, movements, attitudes, the actorâ€™s â€˜gesturalâ€™, in other words. The ambition of these films is to discover a new approach to acting in the cinema, where speech, reduced to essential phrases, to precise formulas, would playa role of â€˜poeticâ€™ punctuation. Not a return to the silent cinema, neither pantomime nor choreography: something else, where the movement of bodies, their counterpoint, their inscription within the screen space, would be the basis of the mise en scene.
In order to enable us to make a definitive crossing of this frontier which separates traditional acting from the kind we are looking for: the constant presence during shooting of musicians (different instruments and styles of music according to each film) who would improvise during the filming of sequences, their improvisation dependent on the actorsâ€™ playing, the latter also being modified by the musiciansâ€™ own inventions (recorded in direct sound along with the dialogue and the â€œstage noisesâ€ properly speaking).
Showdown: knife-wielding Bulle…
vs. gem-wielding Hermine
G. Adair reporting from the set:
Whatever else it may be, a film is also the record of its own tournage. In Rivette’s case, the film set becomes a theatre of imponderables, which shape the result much as a sleeper’s movements will govern the nature of his dreams; and from the evidence of interviews one realizes that the only guidelines of a Rivette film are those of tournage, the idea of a definitive form, at least until editing begins, being a nonsense. In the past (L’Amour Fou, Out 1) his overriding concern as a director has been to record the work’s gestation, which tempts me to suggest that, though the ‘legendary’ 13-hour version of Out 1 may indeed be extraordinary, it must be less so than the six-week version, i.e. the tournage. From [Duelle], whose camera movements are plotted out in advance but whose dialogue is written the evening before, whose actors have specific things to do but whose music is improvised, one can have no idea what to expect.