The Museum of the Moving Image’s comprehensive Jacques Rivette retrospective begins this weekend (Friday, November 10th - Sunday, November 12th) with two screenings each of Paris Belongs to Us and Céline and Julie Go Boating.
The former is Rivette’s first feature film, shot in and around the Bohemian Left Bank between 1958 and 1960. Though technically the inaugural feature of the nouvelle vague, Paris Belongs to Us would not be released until 1961 (in François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his family attend a screening of Rivette’s film, a full two years before it was completed!). In his mixed review of Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997), critic Jonathan Rosenbaum goes on at length about Paris Belongs to Us, which happened to be playing at a concurrent revival:
“Paris Belongs to Us, the first feature of a film critic, offers a critical and philosophical commentary on the conspiracy thriller itself—a fascinating account of its allures and its dangers. In fact, Rivette’s principal point about conspiracy theories is that they are alluring, to the audience as well as the characters. The satisfactions of coherence they offer are so compelling that even the potential or apparent victims of such conspiracies can’t resist imagining them (a paranoid vision with ties to Kafka). But rather than simply prove his characters’ conspiracy theories to be pure and simple hallucinations, Rivette performs the far more difficult task of keeping us perpetually uncertain about them: now we see them, now we don’t. In fact we can never be certain whether they exist or not because our need for them is so palpable.”
Céline and Julie Go Boating might very well be Rivette’s crowning achievement. In his Biographical Dictionary of Film, author David Thomson makes extravagant, though entirely justified claims for the film:
“... It is a comedy, and that is liberty after the ominousness of Rivette’s earlier work. Its length is a balance between the cinema movie and the Out 1 infinity of length. It is a commentary on the history of cinema. It is a generous reconciliation with literature through fiction, and whereas [Citizen] Kane was the first picture to suggest that the world of the imagination was as powerful as reality, Céline and Julie is the first film in which everything is invented.”
Over at Slant Magazine (currently running an ongoing Rivette feature), I and my colleague Ed Gonzalez write no less breathlessly about Céline and Julie. Ed calls it a “spry and intoxicating comedy [that] observes the way women look at each other, themselves, and the world around them,” while I suggest it is a precursor to and palate-cleanser for David Lynch’s latest, Inland Empire. As the saying goes, if you see only one Rivette film…