The Harvard Film Archive is running a Jacques Rivette retrospective thorugh February. This is a very good thing. I have seen 3 Rivette films, his recent ones: Haut/Bas/Fragile, Va Savoir and Marie and Julien - nothing earlier. This is a golden opportunity, and so far has been a godsend.
I'd always suspected that I would like Rivette. I liked the films I'd seen, though without quite committing to them; I liked their playfulness, the knack he had of getting actors to be glorious in front of a camera. The older ones, with their endless lengths and their tangles of plays in movies in plays in movies and their incessant chatter sounded right up my alley. Now that I've seen a few of them - I see I was right. The early films have the qualities I like in the later ones - a sense of play, of fictionalization of everything - with sharper edges, a greater sense of urgency.
I have seen four (in this series): Paris Belongs to Us; The Nun; Out 1: Spectre; and Celine and Julie Go Boating. The Nun is something of the odd one out (as all the critics will agree): Anna Karina plays Suzanne Simonon, sent to a nunnery by her poor and cheap parents, where she has the misfortune to actually believe in god, and take the call to service seriously - she's there on false pretenses, and unwilling to lie about it. It's not a bad film - it's a fine example of a melodrama of an unknown woman, and seems remiscent of Dreyer, more than anything else by Rivette.
The other three films have a lot more in common, and contain the qualities that drew me to Rivette (when it was all just theory). They have the large casts, the plays within the movie, they have existential mysteries, that may or may not be resolved. They take their time - things happen, characters circulate among the other characters, talking, forming and reforming relationships, that keep expanding as we learn more about them. Inside these relationships, some things are real - some things are fiction - some things are lies - some things are games, jokes, accidents - Rivette doesn't necessarily tell us what is what; we figure it out with the characters. There are hints of darker things - plots and conspiracies, murders? suicides? disappearances? - shadowy secret societies? - that may or may not be real.
These films remind me of what I suppose you could call High American Paranoid Post-Modernist Novels: Pynchon, McElroy, DeLillo. Both Paris Belongs to Us and Out 1: Spectre reminded me especially of McElroy's Lookout Cartridge - the search for missing tapes; the groups of artists mixed up (maybe) in political intrigues, even the style - McElroy's insistent first person narrator matches well with Rivette's endless series' of conversations, his refusal to explain anything - he keeps you inside the story at all times. Rivette suggests a paranoid world where it is all connected, but no one in the films, and not us watching the films, ever gets to where the conspiracy is revealed. Or, really, dispersed, though things may turn out to be coincidences - maybe.
I mentioned these films in relation to contemplative cinema blogathon - they don't really fit that category, I think. Rivette's films are too busy, too talkative, too dense; they are also more like puzzles than anything contemplative. They are like games - they are problems to be solved, codes to be deciphered. There are mysteries, secrets, puzzles to be solved in these films - and the films themselves are puzzles. And as enjoyable as a good puzzle can be.
Anyway: there are a lot more of these films coming. And I have said nothing, here, about Celine and Julie - it deserves some sustained thought, I fear, and I don't have time for that now. But I hope to write up a good deal more on this before it is over.
Though there's also a Bela Tarr retrospective coming up, so JR may have some competition.