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Jacques Rivette at MOMI: Week 2

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Jacques Rivette at MOMI: Week 2

Museum of the Moving Image’s (MOMI) comprehensive Jacques Rivette retrospective continues this coming weekend (Saturday, November 18th and Sunday, November 19th) with single screenings of four of the director’s features, one of Rivette’s shorts, and a Claire Denis documentary on the New Wave maestro himself.

First up is Denis’ film, an episode of the television series Cinéma, de notre temps entitled Jacques Rivette: The Night Watchman, in which her mentor fields questions from the late French film critic Serge Daney. Screening the same day is Rivette’s adaptation of Denis Diderot’s novel La Religieuse, entitled The Nun (1966), which I was able to preview. From my Slant Magazine review, published in the website’s ongoing Rivette feature:

“No bones about it, The Nun is a mess—a garish potboiler first and a harsh critique of religious institutions last. But it is never less than involving and is anchored by Anna Karina’s simmer-to-boil-and-back-again lead performance as Suzanne, the bastard daughter of faded aristocrats who is effectively sacrificed to a corrupt, 18th-century religious hierarchy. More icon than actress, Karina bravely allows the constrictive period garb to engulf her natural vitality. When she lashes out at the cruel forces surrounding her, she is feral, possessed, but little more than a puppet fighting, with unhinged futility, against unbreakable strings.”

The Nun will be preceded by Rivette’s short Le Coup de Berger. From Frenchculture.org’s entry on the director:

“In 1956, Rivette shot Le Coup du berger, his first short on 35mm, which was co-written and co-financed by [Claude] Chabrol, and featured performances by other New Wave directors. The story follows the fate of a mink coat, passed through a series of unfaithful lovers.”

The Saturday screenings conclude with Rivette’s 1975 film Duelle, which the New York Times harshly dismissed prior to its 1976 New York Film Festival screening:

Duelle ... is about the struggle between a Sun spirit and a Moon spirit, in the course of which several ordinary people are badly chewed up. It is simply about itself, despite its contemporary references and setting. It spills over into nothing of ours but décor, and even the décor is an airless, garish, 1930’s affair. The whole thing is filmed inside a Tiffany lamp. As the characters stand at the far end of significant perspectives, they resemble nothing so much as show-window mannequins draped portentiously in the foreground of some nonexistent intrigue—sheikhs seducers or beached Rolls-Royces in the background.”

The estimable Dave Kehr offers a more positive take in his Chicago Reader capsule:

“The second installment of a four-part series that was never completed, Jacques Rivette’s 1975 film is a haunting fantasy about two goddesses (Bulle Ogier and Juliet Berto) who descend to contemporary Paris and battle for possession of a magic stone that will allow them to remain on earth. The plot decodes into a conflict between the magical and the realistic cinema—Lumiere versus Melies—and Rivette works out the implications of this contradiction in his mise-en-scene, which applies a long-take, realistic technique to enigmatic situations and mysterious characters. Darker and quieter in tone than Rivette’s better-known Celine and Julie Go Boating, though just as inventive and cryptically intelligent.”

The retrospective’s Sunday screenings kick off with Rivette’s 1966 episode of Cinéastes, de notre temps, which profiles the great director Jean Renoir. Entitled Jean Renoir, the Boss, this documentary had the distinction of being edited by Jean Eustache, director of the highly influential The Mother and the Whore. From Rivette scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Chicago Reader review:

“In 1966 Jacques Rivette made a three-part TV documentary titled Jean Renoir, the Boss, and its 90-minute centerpiece has rarely been seen since. “A Portrait of Michel Simon by Jean Renoir, or A Portrait of Jean Renoir by Michel Simon, or The Direction of Actors: Dialogue,” ... is a missing link that’s key to understanding Rivette’s work. It’s a raw record of the after-dinner talk between one of the world’s greatest directors and his greatest actor, both in their early 70s, punctuated by clips from the five films they worked on together—Tire-au-Flanc (1928), On Purge Bébé (1931), La Chienne (1931), Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932), and Tosca (1941). It also includes occasional remarks by Rivette, the documentary’s producers (Janine Bazin and Andre S. Labarthe), and the stills photographer (the distinguished Henri Cartier-Bresson). The joy Renoir and Simon clearly share at being reunited is complemented by Rivette’s determination to exclude nothing, so that the “direction of actors” applies to him as much as to his two principals, each of whom can be said to be directing the other. For both Renoir and Rivette, direction requires a profound open-mindedness, alertness, and acceptance.”

The final screening of the weekend is Noroît, Rivette’s 1976 feature starring Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont, the second film in his projected, though never completed four-part series, Scenes from a Parallel Life. Rosenbaum again, from his Chicago Reader capsule:

“While the mise en scene and locations are often stunning, the film seems contrived to confound conventional emotional reactions of any sort. It’s a movie where the casual slitting of someone’s throat and the swishing sounds of Lafont’s leather pants are made to seem equally relevant—a world apart from Rivette’s ... La belle noiseuse. Yet Rivette’s feeling for duration, immediacy, and moods of menace are fully present here, and days or weeks after you see this chilling conundrum of a movie, sounds and images may come back to haunt you. Rarely screened—the film never even had a commercial run in France—this monstrous work deserves to be seen as a uniquely disquieting experience.”