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Jacques Rivette

Jacques Rivette

Jacques Rivette is the first of the Cahiers du Cinéma critics to direct a feature, and at age 73 he is still making films that challenge our perception of cinema and life, and the intersection of the two. Rivette frequently uses a work of theatre at the heart of his films (from Shakespeare's Pericles in Paris Belongs to Us to Pirandello's As You Desire Me in Va Savoir," and a continuing theme in his work is the conflict between fictional theatre and real life. The subject matter is often the process of creation itself-often rehearsal or artmaking (as in La Belle noiseuse). Rivette's style is marked by his willingness to make use of improvisation and to experiment with structure. The result is films that are intelligent, unpredictable, and, as Dave Kehr wrote, "animated by a sense of play-of fantasy, freedom, and wonder."

Born in Rouen, France, in 1928, Jacques Rivette went to Paris in 1949 to pursue filmmaking. Rivette had already completed his first amateur film, a twenty-minute silent in 16mm called Aux quatre coins, earlier that year. Rivette hoped to study at the Institut des Haute Études Cinématographiques, but after failing the oral examination, he began his own cinematic education, at the Cinémathèque Français. It was there that he met other young cinephiles, including Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol.

In 1950, Rivette became a journalist and film critic, writing for Gazette du Cinema and Arts. During the next two years, he made two forty-minute silent films, both in 16mm: Le Quadrille (1950) and Le Divertissement (1952). At this time, he also worked as a cameraman on 16mm shorts by Rohmer and Truffaut, and assisted Jacques Becker on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Renoir on French Cancan.

In 1952, Rivette began writing for Cahiers du Cinéma, along with contemporaries Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Godard and Chabrol. It was there that these Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) critics began to create a new film aesthetic, rejecting the traditional studio values for more spontaneous, innovative film, and maintaining that a film should be judged on the extent to which the auteur succeeded in realizing his personal vision. For Cahiers du Cinéma, Rivette contributed essays and interviews with such New Wave heroes as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Howard Hawks and Anthony Mann.

In 1956, Rivette shot Le Coup du berger, his first short on 35mm, which was co-written and co-financed by 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.

Rivette began work on his first feature, Paris Belongs to Us, co-written with Jean Gruault in 1957. Due to money problems, the film was shot between 1958 and 1960 and not completed and distributed until 1961.

Paris Belongs to Us concerns the members of a Parisian acting troupe who are rehearsing a production of Shakespeare's Pericles, and come to believe themselves caught up in a plot by a mysterious organization seeking to control the world. The first of Rivette's many films to revolve around a stage production, Paris Belongs to Us contains most of the basic elements of Rivette's art-a preoccupation with the narrative function of mystery and an obsession with the theater as art, which raises questions about illusion and reality, lies and truth.

Rivette's next film, La Religeuse, (The Nun, 1966) was written by Rivette and Jean Gruault from a play written by Gruault, based on the novel La Religeuse by Diderot. It tells the story of Suzanne Simonin, a young woman (played by Anna Karina) forced into a nunnery by her family. Suzanne is so unhappy that she refuses to take her vows, causing a public scandal which leads her family to take her to another convent, where the lesbian mother superior lusts after her. When she escapes to the outside world, she realizes that the only way she can survive is by prostitution and commits suicide instead.

Rivette staged Gruault's play in Paris in 1963, then began working with Gruault on a screenplay over the next two years. After much controversy, and several rewrites to pass through the censors, the film was released in 1967. The Nun became one of Rivette's biggest commercial successes, and it is also considered one of the most conventional of his films.

In 1966, Rivette made Jean Renoir, le patron, a three-part television documentary about the director. He followed, in 1968, with L'Amour fou (Mad Love), in which Rivette further examined the conflict between theater and life, illusion and reality. The film combined three elements: a theater company which Rivette had Kalfon set up to rehearse for a stage production of Andromaque; a 16mm camera crew which filmed the progress of these rehearsals, whose footage would be integrated into the story as a TV documentary being made about the production; and an improvised study in 35mm of the fictional breakdown in the relationship between the stage director (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) and his actress wife (Bulle Ogier). L'Amour fou was praised as Rivette's first effective application of literary theories of narrative to the cinema.

Rivette moved further in the direction of absolute freedom for his actors with his next film, Out 1: Noli me tangere, starring Bulle Ogier, Juliet Berto, Michel Lonsdale, Michele Morretti and Jean-Pierre Leaud. Once again, the film grows out of theatre groups, two rival companies, preparing Aeschylus' Prometheus and Seven Against Thebes. The 16mm film, improvised by nearly forty actors, was edited down from 30 hours of footage to a twelve hour, forty minute film, intended to be shown on television in eight episodes. However, the film was rejected in its lengthy form and was only shown once, at Le Havre in 1971. The following year, Rivette reworked the footage into a four hour and twenty minute version, entitled Out 1: Spectre, which was highly praised.

Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), starring Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier and Bulle Ogier, is one of Rivette's most memorable films. A mixture of thriller, comedy, and mystery, it is a fairy tale about two women and and their adventures in an old house in Paris. The story follows a film-within-a-film structure and touches on the themes of memory and fantasy, with literary roots in the works of Henry James and Lewis Carroll.

After Celine and Julie Go Boating, Rivette made Duelle (1975) and Noroît (1976). These were to be the first in a series of four films, entitled Les Filles du feu, which would each revolve around a pair of women characters. The intention of the series, Rivette explained at the outset, was "to invent a new approach to film acting, where speech, pared down to essential phrases, precise formulas, would play the role of 'poetic' punctuation." Rivette never completed the series, due to production problems, and instead filled his contractual obligations by making Merry-Go-Round (1978), a detective story which continued his investigation into the relationship between film and the act of filming.

In 1980, Rivette embarked upon a remake of Out 1 but with much of the original cast unavailable, it became Point du Nord, (The Northern Bridge, 1982), an adventure story improvised by Bulle Ogier, her actress daughter Pascale, and Rivette's screenwriting partner Suzanne Schiffman. Before shooting began, they made a thirty-minute short, Paris s'en va (Paris Goes Away).

Rivette went on to make Love on the Ground in 1984, a complicated film involving two stage actresses (Geraldine Chaplin and Jane Birkin), who go to the chateau of a playwright (Jean-Pierre Kalfon). They are meant to rehearse a play about a love triangle, but it becomes a love triangle in fact. This was followed by Hurlevent, an adaptation of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, in which Rivette dramatized the first part of the novel through improvisation with his actors.

In 1988, Rivette made The Gang of Four, starring Bulle Ogier, another treatise on the interplay of performance and life. The enigmatic narrative takes place in two locales: a suburban villa inhabited by four aspiring young actresses (the gang of four), and a studio in Paris where Constance (Ogier) conducts her drama course. Rivette went on to make La Belle noiseuse in 1991, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as numerous other awards. The film concerns a 60-year-old artist (Michel Piccoli) who hasn't worked in many years, and is stirred to paint again by the arrival in his studio of a beautiful young woman (Emmanuelle Beart). The four-hour La Belle noiseuse was also released in 1993 in a two-hour version, entitled Divertimento.

Rivette followed with a two-part film on Joan of Arc (played by Sandrine Bonnaire): Joan The Maiden: The Battles and Joan the Maiden: The Prisons in 1993. The film was highly praised for its unsentimental approach to Joan and its meticulously researched period detail.

Rivette returned to Paris with his next film, Up, Down, Fragile (1994), a mock musical comedy about three women: a singer (Marianne Denicourt), who recently came out of a coma; a former bad girl (Nathalie Richard) trying to go straight as a delivery girl; and a librarian (Laurence Cote) looking for the mother who gave her up for adoption. Inspired by MGM musicals and Jacques Demy, Rivette shoots singing and dancing sequences on the streets of Paris. In Secret Defense (1998), a cancer researcher (Sandrine Bonnaire) is told by her brother, that their father was murdered by an associate. The researcher sets out for the home of the alleged killer to avenge her father's death. Secret Defense is a retelling of the Greek tragedy of Electra, in the style of a Hitchcock thriller.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2002.

Jacques Rivette Facts

Birth NamePierre Louis Rivette
BirthdayMarch 1, 1928 (95)
BirthplaceRouen, France

Selected Filmography

Paris Belongs to Us
La Belle Noiseuse
Out 1
Le Pont du Nord
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