Sunday, 21 February 2016

Blu-ray Review: The Jacques Rivette Collection (Arrow Academy)

Jacques Rivette sadly passed away on 29th January 2016, and left a rich body of work to study and savour for all time.
Rivette began his career as a film critic, going on to become a director and part of the famous French New Wave.
Arrow Acadmey's Blu-ray set celebrates the work of this innovative filmmaker with some top-tier films, including a legendary project that runs for almost 13 hours. This is our first port of call here.

Out 1: Noli Me Tangere

Made in 1970, Jacques Rivette's elusive film has received only sporadic screenings down the years, remaining a 'Holy Grail' for cinephiles.
"Out 1" comprises of 8 episodes that vary in length, from 73 minutes to 109, with the majority hovering around the 100 minute mark.
It's a hefty viewing commitment, but let me say right from the word go that it's absolutely worth every second of your time.

"Out 1" has many characters to identify and follow, beginning with two theatre groups, each rehearsing a play by Aeschylus: "Seven Against Thebes" and "Prometheus Bound". Their rehearsals are fascinating - sometimes frightening - to watch, with posture, delivery of lines and individual interpretation combining to produce intensive periods of work where anything can happen.
The Prometheus clan are led by Thomas (Michel Lonsdale); a serial-smoking intellectual who encourages his troupe to give themselves totally which results in exercises of terrifying physicality. Frequently, events threaten to spiral out of control, with the very real danger of someone getting badly hurt.
The Thebes group use literary and philosophical influences in search of how their performances should be shaped and - like Prometheus - it's fascinating to observe.
Later in the film, both groups are breached by an outsider: Prometheus by Thomas' friend Sarah (Bernadette Lafonte) who is enlisted partly to help remove a creative block, while Renaud (Alain Libolt) joins Thebes, only for the production to unravel.
Outside influences play a major part here, with two characters in particular making their mark: Colin (Jean-Pierre Leaud) first appears as a supposedly deaf mute who stamps 'business cards' which he presents at cafe tables, with the aim of collecting money, accompanied by blasts of his harmonica.
This ruse earns him a steady income, until one particular earning trip leads to him receiving the first of three cryptic notes. Rivette's film was inspired in part by Balzac's "La Comedie humaine" and the "History Of The Thirteen": 3 short novels concerning a powerful secret society in nineteenth-century France.
Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting Of The Snark" also served as an influence, and the sources combined send Colin on a mission. He suspects the notes allude to the nearby presence of a modern-day group, though his meeting with a Balzac expert (played by Eric Rohmer) fails to provide any answers. But, the search goes on, with Leaud delivering a brilliant physical performance that will stay with you.

The second character to encounter the shadowy world of 'The Thirteen' is Frederique (Juliet Berto); a young woman who again obtains money by deception, this time sweet-talking men out of their money, using her beauty and feminine wiles.
Frederique steals some letters during a memorable encounter with a near-neighbour, and their contents lead her into a situation that is simply to big for her to handle.
Throughout its 12 hour plus running time, "Out 1" is a delight to witness and never outstays its welcome.
I'd previously read that some may find the first two episodes heavy going, but can only say that i was hooked right from the start.
What makes this feature even more remarkable is the fact that the dialogue was almost completely improvised with the cast receiving little or no direction from Rivette, who used their performances to shape events and locations for the next days shoot.
As a result, we get cast members who are sometimes stuck for words, yet manage to recover and fully explore the freedom they've been given.
A case in point is a conversation between Emilie/Pauline (Bulle Ogier) and Sarah. Both actresses began with little or no idea on how to proceed, but their claustrophobic encounter is beautifully played. This scene runs for just over 15 minutes, and is one of many highlights. It's also exquisitely directed, using mirrors (a constant theme here)to highlight the boundary between fantasy and reality.
Emillie/Pauline is one of the key characters here. Her husband Igor has been missing for six months and, together with the enigmatic Pierre, casts a shadow over proceedings as Pauline makes a decision regarding the incriminating letters.
These letters and their significance introduce other important characters, including Lucie de Graaf (Francoise Fabian): a lawyer who laughs off Frederique's blackmail attempts, issuing a chilling warning as the identities of the groups members are gradually revealed.

Like "Prometheus", "Out 1" is a coded, complex work and offers infinite replay value with regard to characters, mood and motivation, punctuated by several short, sharp shocks and an approach reminiscent of Free Jazz at it's most hypnotic.
Rivette felt his magnum opus to be too powerful for TV, and put together an alternate cut titled "Spectre", which also appears in this collection and will be discussed a little later.

"The Mysteries Of Paris" 1:49:32s

A valuable documentary populated by key participants, including Rivette, Bulle Ogier, Michel Lonsdale, Stephane Tchal Gadsieff (producer) and Hermine Karagheuz (who features heavily in "Out 1").
The director talks about similarities between cinema and theatre; gives the lowdown on "Spectre" and acknowledges Jean Cocteau as the major inspiration behind his decision to become a film director.
Lonsdale recalls his beach breakdown was inspired by a scene from Fellini's "La Strada", while Ogier and Karagheuz - both still gorgeous - hold forth on Rivette's methods and the demands placed upon the cast.
It's a nice companion to the main feature, amplifying just how much of an achievement it was.

Out 1: Spectre

With a running time of approximately 4 hours 24 minutes, "Spectre" emerges as more than just a condensed version of "Out 1".
Here, you can discern subtle differences that increase appreciation of its lengthier sibling, while at the same time adding depth to characters portrayed by some very fine actors and actresses.
The rehearsals for "Prometheus Bound" and "Seven Against Thebes" are dramatically cut down, and while they provided absorbing viewing in the longer version, their absence here perhaps allows the film space to breathe and amplify the tension elsewhere. Some of my favourite scenes were also absent but again, this allows a greater degree of appreciation for other scenes and characters, such as Lucie and Emilie/Pauline.
Of course, details that one may have missed first time round can be picked up on such as the note advertising Bob Dylan bootleg albums in the window of 'L' Angle du Hasard' (the wonderfully named 'The Corner Of Chance'), or the mysterious footsteps and locked room at The Obade, possibly suggesting that at least one of the crew's missing members may be a lot closer than imagined.

"Spectre" is punctuated by a series of monochrome stills from the previous film, which combine with the live action - beautifully edited - to resemble a glimpse from a different world as though looking through a window. I felt a genuine sense of regret when both version ended.
I would most certainly recommend viewing the long version first, but if you're in a hurry, "Spectre" serves as a tasty primer before the main course.
The ending here works particularly well, with Jean-Pierre Leaud's final utterance an absolute joy, summing up his quest in 3 words. The final frames of the long version can also be seen in "Spectre", too.

Arrow's collection also includes 3 more films from this gifted director, and the next one in line is a real treat.


Made in 1976 and with a running time of two hours, Jacques Rivette's "Duelle" is a bewitching and deliciously entertaining account of the lead up to a fateful duel between two goddesses's and a mortal.
It's Winter and the last night of the full moon when Lucie (Hermine Karahheuz) - a hotel night porter - welcomes a woman seeking a room for the night. Leni (Juliet Berto) is, to all intents and purposes, Lady Christie: partner of Lord Max Christie for seven years, and now seeking his whereabouts. Lucie is enlisted to do some strictly amateur detective work, which involves ticket girls from the Club Rumba, a woman named Sylvia Stern (Claire Nadeau) and brother Pierre (Jean Babilee) who worked with Lord Christie and is involved in the search for a Fairy Godmother stone that's been missing for 200 years.
Blonde Goddess Viva (Bulle Ogier) is another interested party, with possession of the stone enabling her to remain on earth.
Leni requires the stone for the same reason, as both are currently allowed to walk amongst us for just 40 days each year.

Queen Of The Sun vs Queen Of The Night is top of the bill here, as the first full moon of Spring draws ever closer, with Lucie and Pierre's hunt for the stone throwing up a dead body and some highly charged situations: do look out for the literally shattering scene involving one of Rivette's beloved mirrors.
Beautifully paced and superbly shot and lit by William Lubtchansky, "Duelle" is, for me, already one of this year's nicest surprises and far from being an also-ran in this collection.
It's a film that offers considerable replay value, offering a fascinating view of Paris at the time, with its story combining love, deception, murder and mystery, played out by a fine cast.
For many, this will be a first view of "Duelle" and it's quite a treat.

Remembering Duelle (10m 59s)

Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz return, this time recounting their experiences on "Duelle".
Hermine admits she's forgotten much about her role, but recalls a straightforward shoot, with a highly charged, mysterious atmosphere.
Bulle tells of her close relationship with Juliet Berto, and explains they had to keep their distance here so as not to affect their characters motivations.
Hermine also reveals she suffered from stage fright prior to filming. It's quite a moving experience to witness these fine actresses discussing their involvement in a film that can now be enjoyed by so many people.


"Noroit" was shot in 1976 - the same year as "Duelle" - and was again lensed by William Lubtchansky.
It was shot on the Brittany coastline, centring on s small island where a brother and sister are washed up on the beach.
Morag (Geraldine Chaplin) awakens next to her brothers' lifeless body and for the next 134 minutes becomes embroiled in a mental and physical battle with pirate Queen Giulia (Bernadette Lafonte). Buried treasure -consisting of gold and diamonds plundered from vessels - lies at the centre of this wholly experimental work, allowing the director to once again indulge in his passion for constructing a trail leading to what lost hearts most desire.
"Noroit" is not the easiest Rivette film to get a handle on, but that doesn't make it any less worthy.

There's a poetic, other-wordly feel about this film that often reminded me of the work of Jean Rollin, and the striking on-camera musical trio greatly add to the air of improvisation and frequently demented turns by a cast that also includes Kika Markham and Humbert Balsam.
The beauty and mystery of the island are expertly captured by Lubtchansky, with magic hour shots, picturesque surroundings and exquisite interior details making this visually stimulating.

While it's true that "Noroit" - partly based on Cyril Tourneur's "The Revenger's Tragedy" - does take time to cast its spell, it is most certainly worth perseverance, with Chaplin at the centre using looks and gestures that say just as much as the lines she delivers.
By turn infuriating and captivating, "Noroit" looks ravishing in this splendid home video incarnation, and an essential port of call for those in search of unorthodox adventure.


The final film in this most special collection was made in 1981, running for 160 minutes.
Maria Schneider was keen to appear in a Rivette film, and pushed for Joe Dallesandro to co-star.
Unfortunately, the production ran anything but smoothly, with Rivette deeming it to be probably his worst film.
"Merry-Go-Round" begins with Ben Phillips (Dallesandro) arriving in Paris to meet Leo (Schneider), this sister of his girlfriend Elisabeth (Daniele Gegauff).
Their father David Hoffman stole four million dollars before he was reportedly killed in an accident.
A former mistress of his is hot on the tail of the missing cash, with Ben, Leo and Elisabeth also following the trail.
When Elisabeth is abducted, the two leads must attempt to locate her whereabouts and join up the dots in another of the director's treasure hunts.

While Schneider and Dallesandro began this film as firm friends, their relationship took a turn for the worst, with Schneider frequently threatening to leave the production.
Add to this an often confusing screenplay, and you hardly have a recipe for success.
Well, I'd certainly argue that "Merry-Go-Round" deserves its place in this collection, being a slow-burner that requires several viewings to fully appreciate.
Dallesandro and Francoise Prevost (who plays scheming lawyer Novick) are well worth watching, and even the off-par Schneider commands attention. Add to this Michel Berto, Humbert Balsam and the wonderful Hermine Karagheuz and you have a cast that largely makes the best out of what they were given.
There are several scenes that will stay with you, too.Check out the dinner table scene - exquisitely shot and lit by William Lubtchansky - the sequence where a character uses clairvoyant powers to eerily describe a fateful event taking place out of sight and Ben's flight through the woods with hunters in pursuit.
There's a very good film here that's struggling to get out, but there's more than enough to suggest repeat viewings will bring their own reward.

"Merry-Go-Round" is followed by some valuable supplementary material.

Scenes From A Parallel Life (51m 43s)
This is comprised of two Jacques Rivette interviews. Both ultra-rare.
The late director talks about his unfinished four film project; the woes associated with the "Merry-Go-Round" shoot; some of the actresses he's worked with; the music in his films, and speaks in glowing terms about William Lubtchansky. He also states that he believes his audience to be made up of intelligent people who have their wits about them.

Rosenbaum On Rivette (2m 25s)
Here, revered film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum talks about "Duelle", "Noroit" and "Merry-Go-Round", explaining this trio of films had a bad effect on Rivette's career, largely due to critical reaction.
Jonathan discusses the use of music in these films, and of the interaction between actors and musicians. He also provides an insiders knowledge and appreciation of "Duelle" and "Noroit", having been on-set for both.
It's a stimulating and informative video essay, and one you'll return to.

Image quality is very striking on all the features, with delicately handled grain, bold colours and intricate detail.
There's also more bang for your buck in the form of a book containing new writing on the film from Brad Stevens, Mary M. Wiles, Nick Pinkerton and Ginette Vincendeau.

This collection is a real jewel in the crown of UK Home Video, and deserves your most earnest attention.