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.”
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: