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Jacques Rivette at MOMI: Week 6

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Jacques Rivette at MOMI: Week 6

Now over the Out 1 hump (though the legendary serial will have an encore presentation next March), the Museum of the Moving Image’s (MOMI)Complete Jacques Rivette retrospective enters its sixth week with four screenings, one of which is absolutely essential viewing. The Gang of Four (1988) features Bulle Ogieras the delightfully monikered Constance Dumas, an acting teacher who is quickly revealed as something of a quiet tyrant, one who inundates her all-girls performing troupe with a damaging “art-is-life” philosophy. Anna (Fejria Deliba), Claude (Laurence Côte), Joyce (Bernadette Giraud), and Lucia (Inês de Medeiros) are the titular group of young women who travel, day-in/day-out, between their suburban co-operative and Constance’s Paris-based acting school (its blood red walls always-and-often seething with barely contained threat). Rivette emphasizes the cloistered nature of a performer’s life through several interstitial sequences, filmed inside constantly moving trains to nowhere (they might be pendulums futilely swinging back and forth between the same two points). In stark contrast to the liberating outdoor photography of Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord (1981), The Gang of Four is a work composed primarily of near-suffocating, hollowed-out interiors that might almost reflect the characters’ psychological states of mind if there were, indeed, any psychology to reflect.

Outwardly these women are full of life, as curious and given over to exploration as Rivette’s most famed female duo, Céline and Julie. Their camaraderie is infectious, but it turns out to be an unwitting pose, for Constance has so blurred the girls’ ability to distinguish pretense from actuality that they react to each and every real-world situation with a performer’s myopic mindset. Due to the transgressions of their classmate Cécile (Nathalie Richard), the womens’ circle is infiltrated by a cop of many faces (Benoît Régent); at first, he’s as much of a performer as they are, spinning elaborate tales of deceit and deception (including one about a future Rivette subject: the fictional artist Frenhoffer and his painting La Belle noiseuse) as a means of ingratiation. But when his numerous masks fall away and his true intentions are revealed, the girls are unable to deal with him in any realistic context. They react to this interloper as if he is nothing more than a fictional construct and so dispose of him according to Constance’s precepts (in a sequence rife and resonant with some of Rivette’s most disturbing implications about the line separating life and art).

It’s easy for men (at least for those of us who adhere to Andrew Sarris’ cherchez la femme philosophy of cinema) to raise women up as ideals, proffering a macho form of feminist ideology that we blindly believe to be progressive (a future dissertation title for those interested in the subject’s pursuit: “Do Women Need to kick ass to KICK ASS?”), and I think it is exactly this mindset that Rivette is examining in The Gang of Four. Working from the outside in, Rivette and his actresses transform these vacant shells of people into tragically flesh-and-blood human beings. If we respond to their contrived camaraderie (as any cinemagoer is wont to do), our reactions are nonetheless tempered and kept in check by the very fact of the characters’ humanity, which is revealed slowly and disturbingly, layer by layer. No mistake that Constance’s theater suggests a sort of womb—these girls are nurtured over the course of The Gang of Four, finally birthed, at its climax, into a world of absolute uncertainty, into a place where all things familiar are tossed to the wind and they must fend for themselves. The ultimate effect is a frightening one, akin to loosing several of H.R. Giger’s aliens into the general populace, though perhaps more disturbing (and simultaneously elating) is Rivette’s implication that, beneath their varied facades, this quartet possesses an ever-mutating sense of rhyme and reason, a collective conscience of sorts that, in Constance’s absence, might not be so easily molded to murderous consequence.

The Gang of Four was the only film I was able to preview, so I leave thoughts and analyses of the rest of the weekend’s screenings to others. The little-seen Merry-Go-Round features Joe Dallesandro and Maria Schneiderin what the Museum capsule describes as “an elaborate mystery, [in which] a New Yorker [is] summoned to Paris to search for a missing woman.” Part of an account from JoeDallesandro.com:

“As Joe points out, Merry-Go-Round was heading for the same running time stratosphere. And this on top of the tensions that were running high on the set because no one knew what direction the haphazard project was going. There were also off-camera personal crises complicating the lives of stars Dallesandro (drugs), Maria Schneider (suicidal ideation), and the director himself (on the verge of a nervous breakdown). It was only when Joe fell off a motorcycle and injured his coccyx that fate happily intervened on the frustrating shoot. “I didn’t want to, but it was the doctor’s advice that I stop,” Joe recalls. “I’m the kind of actor that if there’s a limb hanging off me, I’m still going to work. The only way any of us could have left the film and got a breather from it, though, was for me to be accidentally injured like that, where the insurance then came in and paid everybody. That’s what happened. Everyone got paid while I was healing. Rivette was going nutty, and Maria was attempting suicide, and so my crack-up gave us a week to calm down and get it together. Rivette was trying to make this movie last forever—we shot a ton of footage—and it was turning out to be one of those 24 hour movies.”“

The last two films are shorter versions of longer Rivette works that the director himself helped to create (Rivette considers them both separate entities, removed from their extended counterparts and to be judged accordingly). Divertimento is a two-hour version of Rivette’s four-hour Cannes Grand Prize winner La Belle noiseuse, created only from alternate takes and unused footage, while Out 1: Spectre is a four-hour abridgement of the thirteen-hour Out 1. From Vincent Canby’s New York Times review of Divertimento:

““Divertimento,” opening today at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, is a straight-faced bit of tomfoolery sent out under the name of Jacques Rivette. He is the French director of “La Belle Noiseuse,” the hypnotically beautiful, numbing four-hour film, released here in 1991, about the angst of a great, if severely blocked, painter. … Unfortunately, the artist’s personal problems are the creakiest part of “La Belle Noiseuse.” “Divertimento” is now a sort of classy soap opera, with more soap than opera. Michel Piccoli is still very fine as the aging painter and Emmanuelle Béart a vision as his model. The re-editing has not helped Jane Birkin’s performance as the artist’s aging waif of a wife. The eliminated material gave the audience some sense of what she was up against: living with a self-centered artist who put his art ahead of everything. In this new cut, she appears to be the kind of drudge who asks to be stepped on so she can be noble by not complaining. She would drive Lassie to drink.”

And Jonathan Rosenbaum, slightly more forgiving:

“For all its limitations as a depiction of the way artists work, the longer version owes much of its power to its sense of duration, which ultimately brings one closer to the characters; this snappier, slicker version, more fluid as storytelling, has plenty of virtues of its own, but it’s less likely to linger as long in the mind. Both versions can be read as a sort of apologia on Rivette’s part explaining why he’s backed away from the obsessive intensity of his 60s and 70s work. But he’s still a master, and even this relatively minor effort shows why.”

Zach Campbell offers an excellent read of Out 1: Spectre. From his write-up on Elusive Lucidity:

“One of the most interesting things I came away with from the film was triggered by a comment that Dan [Sallitt] made between reel changes about how Rivette and Rohmer bothmake a lot of films about characters trying to figure out some big truth. The major difference as I see it, however, is that Rohmer’s characters are searching for what we might simplistically call a ’center,’ a stable something that might dictate moral or ethical behavior. Rivette is interested in esoteric knowledge and its presence on the fringes of everyday life: he’s both gnostic and skeptic (we might say he’s skeptical by virtue first of his fascination with performance & improvisation, and his relative disinterest in “naturalism” or psychology) whereas Rohmer’s approach speaks of his much more historically old-fashioned (i.e., conservative) ideas about society & truth. Where we go from there, testing and challenging and unpacking this observation/supposition, well, I’m not sure … but I thought I’d throw it out there.”

And Rosenbaum again, to close things out:

“Complicating the textual status of Out 1 still further is the 255-minute Out 1: Spectre (1972), which Rivette spent the better part of a year editing out of the original material—not so much a digest of the longer film as a different work with a substantially different structure and tone. Part of the fascinating difference between the two films can be seen in the ways that identical footage can often carry disparate meanings and perform radically different dramatic and narrative functions according to its separate placement in each film. (The opening shot of Spectre, for instance, occurs almost three hours into the serial. One of the more striking differences in the long version is that Michel Lonsdale, the director of one of the film’s two theater groups, emerges as the central character—not only because of his role in guiding his group’s improvisations and psychic self-explorations, but also because his ambiguous role as a rather infantile patriarch becomes pivotal to the overall movement of the plot.)”

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie as actress Sharon Tate, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.

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Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

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