Friday, February 1, 2008

Out 1: noli me tangere

Until very recently, Rivette’s extraordinary film fleuve had remained virtually unseen since it was shown in a work print in 1971, resurfacing at a couple of festivals around 1990, and only "widely" available after two screenings at the NFT in London in April 2006 kicked off a Rivette retrospective world tour. In part, this low profile was because it is almost 13 hours long – even the shorter film from the same material, Spectre (four hours plus) has been hard to come by. In its full form it was designed to be shown over a weekend, in eight sections (French television turned it down for serialised transmission) and both the length and the viewing experience become as significant as what actually takes place on the screen. The pace is beautifully judged from the opiatic opening, almost a documentary on the working practices of early 70’s progressive theatre, and as the actors struggle to progress from a non-linguistic starting point to make sense of the Greek plays each is rehearsing, a mise-en-abime for the search for form that the film itself will carry out. The “plot”, such as it is, kicks in at around the 4-hour mark: Jean-Pierre Léaud is intrigued by and attempts to investigate a secret society – the treize – about which he has unexpectedly received coded communications, and which seems to comprise some if not all the members of the two theatre troupes introduced at the start. Balancing Léaud’s social outsider and involved in her own penetration of the group is the charmingly loopy Juliet Berto, a second lone figure and the fourth major element in the film, and around them circle further characters, most of whom turn out also to be connected with the treize in some way (and of course a house of mystery, this time at the beach, with eery statues, a locked room, and occupied by a novelist who may well be a ghost). Balzac, Carroll and Leone are also present, amongst others; Rohmer has a splendid cameo; and Rouch hovers over the whole like the absent characters Igor and Pierre. Scene after scene has pleasures large and small: Rivette had been moving towards this sort of freedom from conventional form and practice and his film-making on the hoof is exuberant, smart and playful, often electrifying in acting, imagery and chutzpah, and with hints of the fantastical that would escalate through Céline et Julie to the full-blown mysticism of the Scènes de la vie parallèle. ‘Play’ is as important a term in the sense of fun as it is in those of interaction and of movement: the mystery story is the hook, and Rivette and Schiffman manoeuvre the cast through different configurations, on the excuse of Léaud’s and Berto’s largely fruitless investigations. By the final episode, however, both narrative and formal structures have started to disintegrate; the blind alleys could be enjoyed indefinitely, and it is with regret that one realises that an end must come. Quite unique, utterly captivating, and truly mind-expanding as to the possibilities of cinema, it is a grand pleasure in which to wallow.

d Jacques Rivette p Stéphane Tchalgadjieff sc Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman ph Pierre-William Glenn ed Nicole Lubatchansky m Jean-Pierre Drouet cast Michel Moretti, Hermine Karaghuez, Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Michel Lonsdale, Karen Puig, Pierre Baillot, Françoise Fabian, Bernadette Lafont, Eric Rohmer
(1971, Fr, 773m)
posted by tom newth at

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