The first post of my special four-part In Over My Head series, in which I watched some movies I didn’t fully understand, and can’t adequately describe, or even remember properly. I must have been tired last week.


A big title on the decade list. Not only did it show up on multiple lists, but it’s one of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s top 100 of all time, and the Telegraph called it the masterpiece of the “sixth generation”. I’ve now seen five of Jia’s movies and I probably like this one second-best to The World, but I don’t even love The World very much. I watched it once in theaters, then a year later when Cinema Scope sent me the DVD (to replace the announced Colossal Youth) I just tossed it onto the shelf, thinking “don’t suppose I’ll ever watch this again.” I find a great Jia movie less desirable than a pretty-good Brian De Palma movie, and since Jia won the consensus critical vote for auteur of the decade in Film Comment while winning my own WTF Award of 2009 for Dong and Still Life, I am clearly missing something.

First, a quote from the esteemed Acquarello. Despite all the big, big words he uses, this is my favorite short description of the film that I’ve found:

An estranged and depersonalized chronicle that illustrates the marginalization of humanity under the turmoil of profound national change…
Similar to the plight of the perennially dislocated acting troupe in Theo Angelopoulos’ epic film, The Travelling Players, the evolution of the itinerant performers – from disseminators of peasant propaganda, to champions of an eroding, indigenous culture, and eventually, to gauche (and unintentionally comical) assimilators of commercial pop culture – is a poignant articulation of a generation foundering in their own seeming irrelevance and figurative exile from within their homeland, desperately struggling for inclusion and a sense of place in their country’s future. It is this sentiment of cultural displacement that is illustrated in the repeated encounters between Ming-liang and Ruijuan among the ruins of a disused ancient fortress: an elegiac image of unrequited love lost in the expansive and formidable landscape of a silent, unarticulated, and disconnected human history.


During the first hour of the movie (the “peasant propaganda” section) I wrote: “it must be tiring to be that nationalistic all the time.” During the last hour (the “unintentionally comical” section) I noted the group was calling themselves The All Star Rock ‘n’ Breakdance Electronic Band.

Cui Mingliang, is our sorta-hero, a glasses-wearing bellbottoms-wearing so-called artist who doesn’t seem to believe much in anything he’s doing, just going along with the group. He meets with his girl regularly, but they never seem to fully connect, and when he comes home from a tour at the end, she has become a cop or a commie or something. Camera is mostly stock-still, but not afraid to pan around when outdoors. Whoa, does the movie really end with some girl and her baby playing around a teapot? Since I have no wisdom, here are more helpful quotes.


AO Scott: “The story, which unfolds episodically over more than three hours, might be described as a Boogie Nights about socialist cultural politics instead of pornography.”

Senses of Cinema:

That Jia shows the negative consequences of this economic revolution goes without saying but his imperatives are non-judgmental and totally undogmatic. His cinema belongs to a humanistic tradition in the larger ecumenical sense but Jia’s style is buffeted by postmodern means and a dedication to realism. At the same time, Jia associates his humanity with a feeling for home. Home is Fenyang, which to Jia, acts as a microcosm of China itself. Fenyang shows the “original face” of China. Jia depicts the fundamentally harsh conditions of the backwater that is Fenyang as the wheels of the market economy turn, driving the residents of Fenyang into the modern age and leaving many by the wayside.

Jia himself makes a surprisingly good interview subject.
“A hundred years ago, if you felt lonely, you would write a poem. A hundred years later, if you felt lonely, you might make a movie. Such problems persist.”

S. Teo: “But your movies are banned inside China, and in fact, they have been mostly seen outside of China, in foreign countries.”
JZ: “This is a fact. This is the most embarrassing and tragic aspect of being a Chinese filmmaker. … Then again, Xiao Wu is quite widely seen in China because there are pirated VCDs being circulated. So I have conflicting emotions. My film is being pirated on the one hand, but on the other hand, it is one method of getting my film shown. I feel embarrassed and helpless.”


Jia again:

I use a lot of long shots. If the audience can see things in there, that’s good, if they can’t, so be it. I don’t want to impose too many things onto the audience. For instance, in Platform, I used only two close-ups. One was the close-up of the postcard that Zhang Jun sent from Guangzhou. It’s not that there are special situations where I wanted to hold back some information. I don’t want to impose a message onto the audience. I want to give them a mood and within that mood, you can see things that you want, or you can’t see things. My films are rather challenging for the audience. They are not very clearly stated to the extent where the audience can see clearly the objects they want to see – this pen or this watch. If they don’t notice it, they don’t notice it. It’s not that I am being indifferent. Through all these, I am imparting a director’s attitude, how he sees the world and the cinema. What I mean to say is that it’s only an attitude because you can never be absolutely objective. When you need somebody to look at something, it’s no longer objective. There is no absolute objectivity, there is attitude, and through this attitude, there is an ideal.

Mr. Grunes: “Some reviewers have called the film ‘static’ – technically, an odd claim given the film’s prolific use of moving cameras (pans, trackings, fixed cameras in moving vehicles), but a claim that makes emotional sense.”

Aha, Jia also says the whistling teapot at the end is meant to evoke a train whistle, the train having the same meaning of escape from the small-town ordinary as it does in Pather Panchali. He gives a very good interview, plainly explaining his style and intentions – and, horror of horrors, he says he prefers the shorter cut of the movie, the version I watched, not the elusive 3+ hour so-called director’s-cut.
Eat it, Film Comment.

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:

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).

Third-wheel El̩onore РSandra Montaigu of Hurlevent:

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.


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.

I don’t know much about Bette Davis, seems she was a big star in the 30’s and this was her comeback picture (was supposed to be Claudette Colbert but she got sick). Anne Baxter had been in The Magnificent Ambersons, later starred in I Confess, The Blue Gardenia and The Ten Commandments. Movie is over-narrated by both George Sanders (Moonfleet, Rebecca, Voyage to Italy) as a gossip columnist and Celeste Holm (High Society, Three Men and a Baby) as Bette Davis’s best friend. The friend’s husband is “writer” Hugh Marlowe (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Day the Earth Stood Still) and Bette’s beau and eventually husband is “director” Gary Merrill (of noir Where the Sidewalk Ends). Marilyn Monroe, a year or two before stardom but already showing her signature persona, has a small part as an aspiring actress.

Nice cinematography by Milton Krasner, who worked nonstop through the 30’s, shot some good noir pictures in the 40’s, and worked with Wilder, Ray, Minnelli and Hawks after this. Mankiewicz made this the same year as No Way Out, five years before Guys and Dolls.

Um, right, what happened in it? Bette is kinda washed up, I mean still a huge-selling star of stage (not screen) for her celebrated director/beau and writer/drinking buddy, but all the parts are still for younger girls and she’s starting to stretch the definition of young. Enter Eve, superfan who has seen every performance of Bette’s new play. Flattered, they let Eve hang around, but she’s not the innocent thing she claims to be – has been lying about her past and getting cuddly with the two men, conniving to put herself in Bette’s shoes, which she has very successfully done by the end (errr, the beginning, since it starts at the end).

Got a record 14 Oscar noms (winning writing, directing and picture) and even some awards at Cannes, beating out Sunset Blvd. The Third Man took it for cinematography, though. Lots (lots!) of self-conscious swipes at Hollywood (even one at the Oscars) and a few at television. I thought it was a little clunky, a little long, a little dry, overall quite good but didn’t strike my passions. Didn’t see Thee Acclaimed Bette Davis for the most part until the end when she is freaking out, and I guess in a couple other parts (see candy-eating scene below). Katy and Dawn liked it, too.

Who’s that on the right? Why, it’s the great Thelma Ritter, soon to be in Rear Window and Pickup on South Street. Center, facing Bette, is co-narrator and best friend Celeste Holm, and that’s one of the two male leads next to her, frankly they both looked the same to me:

I loved the bit during this fight at home when Bette is furiously eating candy instead of screaming at this guy:

Fey George Sanders with titular star Anne Baxter:

Awesome rear-projection shot. They are just pretending to walk, rocking back and forth in front of a screen. Why?

Terrific ending, with a new young hopeful who idolizes Eve and pretends (here, in a three-way mirror) to take her place, the cycle starting over again. This was the signature scene for small-time actress Barbara Bates, who never topped it and committed suicide twenty years later.

“Don’t waste your time in the so-called real life.”


One of my new favorite movies! Rivette must’ve dug this one, being about theatrical performances bleeding into real life, with characters and camera always behind and in front of screens and fences, sheets and curtains.

An Italian theater company arrives “in a Spanish colony of Latin America” in the early 1700’s and attempt to build a theater and make a living amongst locals who care more about bullfighting. Camilla, the lead actress of the group (Anna Magnani in an amazing, vibrant performance) entertains the affections of three fans: the local star bullfighter, the viceroy (who offers her the titular coach) and troupe member Felipe, who wants to settle down in the wilds of America. With the threat of duels, revolution, prison and worse, Camilla contrives a way out, donating her coach to the church and retreating back behind the curtain, letting all three men off the hook. Movie (this version of it, anyway) is in English, with a wild mix of accents.

In interview, Renoir says he was highly concerned with color (it is brilliant – see shot above), with Anna’s wonderful acting, with being able to change the script and with playing around with the nature of acting, on the stage and in real life.

Renoir: “My principal collaborator on this film was the late Antonio Vivaldi. I wrote the script while listening to records of his music, and his wit and sense of drama led me on to developments in the best tradition of the Italian theater.”


Andrew Sarris: “To claim, as reviewers at the time did, that Renoir had failed to produce a convincing narrative, is to scorn Matisse and Picasso for not painting plausible pictures.”

Andre Bazin: “Renoir directs his actors as if he liked them more than the scenes they are acting and preferred the scenes which they interpret to the scenario from which they come. This approach accounts for the disparity between his dramatic goals and the style of acting, which tends to turn our attention from his aims. The style is added to the script like rich paint liberally added to a line drawing…”

J. Rosenbaum: “As Bazin suggests, the actors are employed as if they were different kinds of paint, freely spilling over the initial designs, but it’s worth adding that the colors are employed on occasion as if they were actors – a splash of yellow or blue in an incidental decor carrying all the allure of a memorable extra.”

Rosenbaum again:

All three films are comic period fantasies in dazzling color, offering a kind of continuous, bustling choreography in which shifting power relations between upper and lower classes and between spectators and performers literally turn the world into a kind of theater. In this respect, they might be said to offer more abstract and less politically anchored versions of the films Renoir made during the thirties. Unlike their predecessors, they’re deliberately removed from real life. And given the sense of political as well as the personal defeat that came with the war and his departure from France, followed by a lengthy period of living in exile, they’re unable to hide a subtle aftertaste of regret lurking behind all that gaiety – a sense that utopia can only be found, if at all, on a soundstage, not in the Popular Front that once meant so much to Renoir. This sadness only occasionally rises to the surface, as in the memorable exchanges between actors Camilla and Don Antonio at the very end: “Felipe, Ramon, the viceroy… disappeared.” “Now they are part of the audience. Do you miss them?” “A little.”

Scorsese says there were versions in Italian and French, and that the ending (which looks like it came from a degraded print) was newly restored in the 90’s.

Don Antonio, leader of the actors group, played by Odoardo Spadaro of Divorce, Italian Style:

Rome’s Cinecitta studio was equipped for sync sound recording in the 50’s? You wouldn’t know it from the Italian movies I’ve seen.

A few comic reminders that we’re in the 18th century: “Tomorrow papa is being bled with leeches, the day after I have my purge.”

Cameo by French actor Jean Debucourt as the bishop, of Epstein’s silent Fall of the House of Usher, Cocteau’s Eagle With Two Heads and Max Ophüls’ Madame de…

The three men, below from left to right:
– Ramon the bullfighter – Riccardo Rioli, whose film acting career began the year before, and ended the year after with a small part in a Mankiewicz picture.
– The Viceroy – Scottish Duncan Lamont, charming in this, later in Mutiny on the Bounty and Quatermass and the Pit.
– Felipe: American Paul Campbell, who was a beef-and-cheesy enough actor to get himself cast in The Deadly Mantis. He lived long enough to have seen the MST3K version – here’s hoping he did.


The great Anna Magnani plays Camilla. Star of Mamma Roma, Bellissima and Rome, Open City, she also beat out Kate Hepburn and three other Americans for the 1955 Oscar for The Rose Tattoo.

“Where is truth? Where does the theater end and life begin?”

SEPT 2020: Katy watched this with me… and she liked it!

What a wonderful coincidence that I watch You’re Never Too Young, and then find out the next day that the film it remade is on Turner Classic.

Robert Osbourne introduced as a screwball comedy, but the only thing screwball here is the premise. Movie is played as a straight, semi-romantic comedy. Same story as the Lewis flick but minus the jewel thief and with a sex reversal (and predictably there’s no equivalent to the Dean Martin character). So Ginger Rogers is the scalp-massager lured to an apartment under a false premise which gets her to leave town and have to pose as a kid to afford a ticket. She hides out in Ray Milland’s room, same thunderstorm and morning discovery scene, then has to keep up the ruse so Ray won’t get in trouble and kicked out of the military. Again, a happy ending with Ray getting his wish to be sent on active duty (makes more sense in the nationalistic war-ragin’ 40’s than in the 1955 remake) and happening to meet a finally-acting-her-own-age Ginger on the train platform (where she gives him a Katy-disapproved line about how all some girls want is a letter from their husbands-abroad every couple weeks).

Cute movie, with some major Creepiness Issues (Ginger cuddling up to Ray, wanting him while pretending to be a little girl and calling him “uncle”). Not the madcap funhouse of the remake, though… no Dean songs (they’re not missed) or speedboat chases, choral performances or marching band shenanigans. Turning the all-girls school into a military academy surprisingly doesn’t change much. Some scenes are very similar, like the long-distance call at the phone switchboard (though Jerry ups the humor with his nutty dancing and a voice-dubbing stunt). I’m sure there’s some auteurist reason why I should prefer the original to the remake, but sorry, I sorta don’t.

This came out a full decade before Ginger Rogers had a lot more fun playing a little girl in Monkey Business (another movie comparison which does this film no favors), and TWO decades before Ray Milland acquired his X-RAY EYES. Back in the 40’s he was cast not for the x-ray eyes but because he is an effective leading man, and an exact cross between Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Wilder sez: “I wrote the part of the major for Cary Grant. I always wanted him in one of my pictures, but it never worked out.”

15-year-old little Lucy would grow up to play the love interest in the remake. Ray’s meddling fiancee (and Lucy’s big sister) was Rita Johnson (The Big Clock, Here Comes Mr. Jordan). The strict colonel (Lucy’s father) was Edward Fielding, who managed to portray military men, doctors, ministers and shopkeepers in over 70 films in the 1940’s despite a fatal heart attack halfway through the decade. Ginger Rogers’ mom, in her only screen appearance, played Ginger Rogers’ mom. Guy who gets a scalp massage at the beginning was Robert Benchley, the Jaws author’s grandfather. The young high-school age kids were actually 22, 21 and 16 (x2). That’s more accurate casting than the remake managed to get. The one familiar-looking boy had played Rudy in Shop Around The Corner, the kid the shop owner takes out for Christmas dinner in the final scene.

And what do I know about Billy Wilder? Not very much! Just enough to see plot parallels between this and Some Like It Hot. Saw none of the cynicism for which he’s known, but Wilder explains: “I was very careful. I set out to make a commercial picture I wouldn’t be ashamed of, so my first picture as a director wouldn’t be my last.”

Internet says the screenwriter invented the bad pickup line “Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?”.

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 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.

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.


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.


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:

Apr 2008:
Watched again with a very small, mildly unhappy audience. Oh how will I meet some fellow Rivette fanatics in my town if not at a public Celine & Julie screening? Love love love the last twenty minutes or so when they attack the fiction house, but the parts in the middle where they interfere in each other’s lives (Celine driving away Julie’s lover, Julie wrecking Celine’s job) are great fun also. Still don’t know what to make of Julie meeting her grandmother at the house next door to the fiction house.

Catching up with the cast: “Julie” had not-huge parts in Renoir and Fellini films, was recently in Ruiz’s Time Regained with La Belle noiseuse star Emmanuelle Béart. Marie-France Pisier played the dark-haired flower-fearing woman in the fiction house, also appeared in Time Regained, as well as Phantom of Liberty, Trans-Europ Express and got her start starring in Truffaut’s short Antoine & Collette.

Remembering the cat in the final shot, I paid attention to all the cats in the movie this time. Not much to say about that, though.

Feb 2007:
Incredible movie. Been thinking about it a lot. Lived up to expectations after I’d been wanting to see it for 6-7 years. Delightful to watch for all three of its hours, playful in every sense.

Dark-haired Celine meets red-head Julie, and they goof around for a long time, then…

James Crawford in Reverse Shot:

From the outset, Céline’s been on the run from a mysterious mansion with a gruesome secret. And so, just as the title predicts—in French, ‘aller en bateau,’ literally translated as ‘to go boating’ has a colloquial meaning of approximately ‘to get taken for a ride’ or ‘get caught up in a story’—Céline and Julie get wrapped up in discovering said secret.

The two take turns entering this house and comparing their experiences, trying to change the outcome and learn the secrets within. They mess with each other’s personal lives (jobs and friends), experiment with spells and legends and memory, and seem to never stop enjoying themselves. A big ol’ metaphor for movie watching, filmmaking, audience participation, getting caught up in the action. Out 1 is at the theater and Celine & Julie is at the movies.

Released the same year as another movie to blow my mind on video lately, Edvard Munch.

Will have to see this again and again.

Celine & Julie:

Feuillade-ing through town:

Bulle Ogier (Out 1’s Pauline/Emilie)

Director Barbet Schroeder as the guy in the fiction house:

The girl from the house, rescued:

Going boating:

Netflix says: “Art and life intertwine when four aspiring actresses study with a renowned film instructor in this acclaimed psychological drama … Assigned to analyze the play Double Infidelities, the women – who also happen to be roommates – soon find themselves caught up in a web of suspense and scandal as the script spills over into their offstage lives.”

EDIT: you know I’ve got a horrendous writeup when it opens with netflix’s envelope plot description… need to watch this again and update.


Half of this one takes place in Bulle Ogier’s theater, where the girls are practicing a play we never see performed, and I’m watching, all “ooh, that’s just like in Out 1 and Paris Nous Appartient” but I’m not really paying attention to the text of the play, so whether the Netflix blurb is accurate I cannot say. Then we’ve got a secret conspiracy, the train rides from Secret Defense (done very differently here, brief and abstract), a direct reference to La Belle Noiseuse, throw in Bulle and you’ve got Rivette 101.

The careful compositions and slow unveiling of story and character flow like a Rivette film, but otherwise I can’t say it was similar to his others that I’ve seen… the experience of watching them was very different. I guess it’d be most similar to Secret Defense.


Above: JR muse Bulle Ogier as a great actress turned acting instructor.

The titular four are Joyce, Anna, Claude and new roommate Lucia, who is replacing ex-roomie Cécile, who has started acting strangely and disappearing, caught up in her boyfriend’s criminal trial. In a mystical storm scene, Lucia finds some keys that Cécile has hidden in the apt., keys which could clear the boyfriend’s name while taking down someone powerful. Thomas is out to stop this at all costs, following each of the girls (mostly non-threateningly) and asking them questions, finally getting sometime-lesbian Claude to fall in love with him, gaining him access to the house so he can search for the keys. Cécile has also come back looking for the keys, and even Constance (Bulle Ogier) gets involved, getting arrested at the end for hiding Cécile’s boy after he escaped prison.


Some occasional Celine and Julie antics (see mock trial above). What movie has most in common with Out 1 is its split between the easily-summarized plot (above) and the theater scenes.

Irene Jacob of Red and Double Life of Veronique had a small part, as one of the actors I think.


Above: the Four, left to right:
Lucia РIn̻s de Medeiros Рin movies by Jọo C̩sar Monteiro and Pedro Costa
Joyce – Bernadette Giraud – later in Secret Defense and Joan of Arc 1
Claude – Laurence Côte – in Up Down Fragile, Thieves and Godard’s Nouvelle Vague
Anna – Fejria Deliba – in an Olivier Assayas movie

C̩cile РNathalie Richard РUp Down Fragile, 2 by Assayas, 2 by Haneke
“Thomas” – Benoît Régent – lead dude in Blue, died a month after Red opened
Constance – Bulle Ogier – of Out 1 and everything else

The charactors (actors) and their relationships seem more important than plot/storyline, so I’ve made a page for the characters first, then a story summary page, separated into day one and day two, totalling my most complex journal entry to date!

I spent all this time on plot and character description, not necessarily because the story elements are so important, but because I may not get to see this again and I want to be able to remember it.

Thankfully, I have a downloaded copy of the movie from Raitre Italian TV, so I can get lots of screen shots.

But what of the movie, overall? Worth the trip to New York to see it, for sure. A total experience of a film, from the dedicated audience to the live subtitles to the 16mm presentation to the museum theater that hosted it to the sheer length and intermissions to the Jean-Michel Frodon (Cahiers du Cinema editor) introduction to the content, with its very long wide shots and very gradually developing story… many scenes that only form a complete big-picure scenario if you’re paying close attention for most of its runtime.

Dennis Lim of the NY Times called it “the cinephile’s holy grail” and says:

In the annals of monumental cinema there are few objects more sacred than Mr. Rivette’s 12 1/2-hour OUT 1. Shot in the spring of 1970, this fabled colossus owes its stature not just to its immodest duration but also to its rarity. Commissioned and then rejected by French television, the film had its premiere on Sept. 9 and 10, 1971, at the Maison de la Culture in Le Havre before receding into obscurity . . . has become a true phantom film whose reputation rests on its unattainability . . . Mr. Rivette worked without a script, relying instead on a diagram that mapped the junctures at which members of his large ensemble cast would intersect. The actors came up with their dialogue; the only thing Mr. Rivette actually wrote were the enigmatic notes Mr. Léaud’s character receives . . . With OUT 1 he found the perfect match of form and content, an outsize canvas for a narrative too vast to apprehend. In a 1973 interview Mr. Rivette described the film’s creep from quasi-documentary to drama in ominous terms: the fiction ‘swallows everything up and finally auto-destructs’.

I love it – not just a legendary museum curiosity that people pretend to like to impress other cinephiles, but actually an amazing film worthy of its reputation. Of course, mostly its reputation is that of an unattainable film (we were told this was the eighth-ever public screening), not of a great masterwork… but I guess it’s worthy of both of those.

The experimental theater exercises get very long, even too long, but not tedious. If a scene lasts “too long” in a regular movie, maybe you could’ve trimmed two minutes to make it feel right. But the theater scenes aren’t necessary at all, from a story point of view, so there’s no telling how long they need to be. When it hits me that I’ve been watching the same theater scene for twenty minutes, it’s not annoyance but awe that hits me. It’s hard to say what exactly is necessary in this movie… once you start cutting or shortening scenes, tying up loose ends and clarifying character connections and histories, you’re talking about a different movie (and not SPECTRE, but a different movie entirely). Best leave it the unwieldy beast it is, and appreciate it as that.

Dennis Lim’s article is a good one… here’s more:

“Out 1” now seems a relic of a bohemian heyday, a time when you could spend your days rehearsing ancient Greek plays or making 12-hour films. But even in 1970 that hazy idyll was already fading. The film takes its shape, as Mr. Rosenbaum has noted, from “the successive building and shattering of utopian dreams.” An epic meditation on the relationship between the individual and the collective, “Out 1” devotes its second half to fracture and dissolution. But it’s not a depressing film, perhaps because its implicit pessimism is refuted by its very existence. Experiential in the extreme, “Out 1” cannot help transforming the solitary act of moviegoing into a communal one.

And Lim says that Rivette’s 2007 movie Don’t Touch The Axe will be revisiting Balzac’s “History of the Thirteen”. “Does this represent a closing of the circle? An expansion of the master plan? If there’s one thing we know from Mr. Rivette’s films, it’s that the big picture will remain just outside our grasp.”

Ah ha: Rivette’s interview from Film Comment… he says shots of Paris’s landmarks “were inserted…frankly as empty spaces. As a kind of visual silence. . .” I had been wondering.

Reverse Shot says: “In Rivette there’s a sense, not just of watching or duration, both of which are passive ideas, but of actively being put through a process”.

Crawford in Reverse Shot:

Out 1 was made in the aftermath of the social uprising of May ’68, when a series of strikes by Parisian student unions devolved into a full-bore confrontation with the military. What once began as a hope to radically reinvent the mores of a stagnant and conservative society ended meekly, with the unions urging a peaceable return to work and De Gaulle’s party consolidating its power to a greater degree than ever. Out 1 taps into this post-May ’68 malaise, betraying an abiding mistrust in grand social movements, services organizations. Paris is turned into a disconnected amalgam of individual groups hermetically sealed off from one another. . .

Is it too simplistic to describe Colin as a spectator’s surrogate and leave it at that? What do we make of choice to pose as a deaf-mute and his return to that state at the end of the film? How, for that matter, do we take of the weird behavior of the male (Colin) and female (Frédérique) interlopers? Their logic and mode of behavior is vastly different from anyone else in the film; it’s like they’ve parachuted in from Céline and Julie Go Boating.