Rivette-ing cinema


Jacques Rivette, who passed away recently, inspired filmmakers like Truffaut and Godard

During all the hype and hoopla of the Sundance Film Festival, a master of world cinema left us forever. French filmmaker Jacques Rivette died on January 29, a victim of Alzheimer’s. He was 87. Rivette, along with colleagues François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Éric Rohmer, wrote for seminal French cinema journal Cahiers du Cinéma. From 1949 to 1952, Rivette directed a few shorts, but it was his 1956 short Le coup du berger, which deals with an unfaithful wife, who is gifted a fur coat by her lover, and how they try and find a way to deceive her husband on where the coat came from, that was hugely influential. Rivette, in a voice over, describes the illicit couple’s actions like chess moves. Truffaut cited the short as the inspiration for him, Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Georges Franju to make their first films. “It had begun. And it had begun, thanks to Jacques Rivette. Of all of us, he was the most fiercely determined to move,” said Truffaut. The beginning Truffaut was talking about is the Nouvelle Vague, or the French New Wave of cinema that spawned several masterpieces, including The 400 Blows (1959), Breathless (1960), Le Beau Serge (1958), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Eyes Without a Face (1960). For more information on the New Wave, especially if you are interested in the friendship between Godard and Truffaut, do seek out and watch Emmanuel Laurent’s documentary Two in the Wave (2010).

Unlike his more celebrated New Wave colleagues, Rivette was less prolific in his filmmaking output, and at least for a lay audience, his work is not as accessible. His feature debut is, on the face of it, about a bunch of diverse people in post-war Paris, who are discussing the death of an activist, while at the same time talking about staging a theatre production of Pericles… but it is so much more. It is a classic ‘onion’ film, where layer after layer is revealed upon repeated viewing. The Nun (1966), based on Denis Diderot’s novel La Religieuse, followed a young woman who is forced to become a nun and is subjected to different kinds of torture. The French Catholic Church took umbrage and the film was banned for a while. If you have to watch just one Rivette film, it has to be the hallucinatory and magic realist Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). While mere words cannot begin to describe the film, I personally think of it—at the risk of offending Rivette’s more austere, cinema literate acolytes—as a vintage Asterix comic. You know, the kind that you have read a hundred times as a child, and when you revisit it, you find clever little nuggets that you had missed earlier. At 192 minutes, it is long, but that is nothing compared to the 773-minute Out 1 (1971), a sprawling eight-episode tale, where characters from one pop up in others.

I see an Amazon delivery at the door. That must be my Rivette Blu-ray box set arriving. That’s me out for a week.

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