Jacques Rivette – The Most Peculiar Director of the New Wave

Probably the least known of the five great directors of the New Wave (besides Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol and Godard), Jacques Rivette is most certainly the most peculiar author of them all

Rivette's specific, very personal poetic sensibility is quite evident in the three films shown within the short program of his work in Tuškanac. The first among them, Rivette’s feature film debut Paris Belongs to Us, was shot from 1958 to 1960 and premiered in December 1961. In a narrative sense it is an open film that presents the author’s fascination with the motifs of paranoia and conspiracy, performing, the relationship between the theatre and life, a constant questioning of the credibility of depicted events and an inability to establish a coherent storytelling world. With its young protagonists, typical of the New Wave, the film combines painstaking theatre rehearsals of Shakespeare’s Pericles and mysterious political events, intimate and artistic preoccupations of characters with what is apparently a detective story. Meanwhile, development of a series of coincidences and insinuations between the characters results in the psychotic suspicion that they are the victims of a neo-fascist political conspiracy intent on controlling the world. Eventually it turns out that the conspiracy is the product of one paranoid character’s imagination, which does not hurt the suggestive atmosphere of irrationality that Rivette created, but rather very well fits the author’s vision of film as art determined by dialectics of reality and its representation, i.e. illusion. Rivette’s two other films in this program confirm his position, Celine and Julie Go Boating and Duelle, both made in the 1970s. The first is a combination of genre components of thriller, comedy, detective film and fantasy with many literary and film allusions (Lewis Carrol and Jean Cocteau, to mention only two). It was made without a screenplay, focusing on the metaphor of storytelling, consisting of motifs of constant repetition of the same story and variations on different patterns of play that completely abolish the borders of storytelling levels, reality, fantasy and memory. The other film, an even more openly fantasy film, equally playful and intellectual, with female central characters, was supposed to be the beginning of a series bearing the typically New Wave title Daughters of Fire. After the second film, Noroît, the series was brought to an end because it was completely non-commercial.

The three selected films in this program confirm Rivette’s engagement with fragility, or rather an inability to distinguish between illusion and reality, story and storytelling, creative processes as such and his unfeasible aspiration for homogenous story lines. During his career Rivette gave shape to these preoccupations using the motif of theatre in his feature film debut as well as in L'amour fou, Out one, Love on the Ground, The Gang of Four, Secret défense, and Va Savoir (Who Knows?), ranging from plays such as Aeschylus’ s Prometheus Bound and Seven Against Thebes and Euripides’ Electra to Racine’s Andromache and Pirandello’s As You Desire Me. Once he used painting to meditate about the creative process (in La belle noiseuse, a free adaptation of Balzac’s short story The Unknown Masterpiece). Sometimes, as a true film lover but also in a bit of an ironic frame of mind, he deconstructed the patterns of thriller and even engaged in the genre of costumed films such as in The Nun, based on Diderot (his biggest commercial success after the film was originally banned as an adversary to good morale), Jeanne la Pucelle, about the French national heroine and in the film Ne touchez pas la hache, based on Balzac’s novel The Dutchess de Langeais. However, with every work Rivette confirmed his philosophy of film as “the art of fascination and violence, sometimes unclear, coiled in darkness and similar to dreams”. (Bruno Kragić)