Rivette in 2006.
|Born||Jacques Pierre Louis Rivette
1 March 1928
|Occupation||Film director, film critic, theatrical director|
|Known for||Paris nous appartient
Celine and Julie Go Boating
La Belle Noiseuse
|Movement||French New Wave|
|Spouse(s)||Marilù Parolini (divorced)|
Jacques Rivette (French: [ʒak ʁivɛt]; born 1 March 1928) is a French film director and film critic most commonly associated with the French New Wave and Cahiers du Cinéma. He has made twenty-eight films, including Le Coup de Berger, Paris Belongs to Us, L'amour fou, Out 1, Celine and Julie Go Boating, Le Pont du Nord, La Belle Noiseuse and Va savoir. Rivette was inspired by Jean Cocteau to become a filmmaker and shot his first short film at the age of twenty. He moved to Paris to pursue his career and frequented Henri Langlois's Cinémathèque Française and other ciné-clubs. In Paris he met François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and other future members of the New Wave. He began writing film criticism and was hired by André Bazin to write for Cahiers du Cinéma in 1953. As a film critic, he expressed his admiration for American films, especially genre directors such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. He was also highly critical of mainstream French films. His articles were admired by his peers and were considered the most aggressive and well-written of the magazine. He continued making short films, including Le Coup de Berger, often called the first film of the New Wave. Truffaut credited Rivette with initiating the New Wave.
Although he was the first of the New Wave to begin working on a feature film, Paris Belongs to Us was not released until 1961, after Chabrol, Truffaut, Rohmer and Godard released their own feature film debuts and made the movement famous worldwide. He became editor of Cahiers du Cinéma in the early 1960s and publically fought French censorship over the release of his second feature film The Nun. He then re-thought his career and developed his own cinematic style with L'amour fou. Influenced by the political turmoil of May 68, improvisational theater and a lengthy interview with filmmaker Jean Renoir, Rivette began working with large groups of actors to develop characters, then allowed events to unfold organically on camera during production. This led to the thirteen-hour Out 1, which has rarely been screened and is considered a cinephile's "holy grail". In the 1970s his films became more well-regarded and often employed fantasy-themed plots, such as Celine and Julie Go Boating. After attempting to film four films back to back, he suffered a nervous breakdown and his career slowed down for a few years.
In the early 1980s he formed a business partnership with producer Martine Marignac, who has produced all of his films since then. His film output increased and he became regarded as a great director internationally, especially with his 1991 film La Belle Noiseuse. He retired after the completion of 2009's Around a Small Mountain. In 2012 it was revealed that Rivette is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He was briefly married to photographer and screenwriter Marilù Parolini in the early 1960s and is known to be intensely private about his personal life. His films often use improvisation with only short outlines instead of scripts, extended running times and loose narratives. They explore such themes as conspiracy theories, fantasy and theatricality in everyday life. They often combine the paranoid and conspiratorial crime stories of films by Louis Feuillade and Fritz Lang with the more carefree characters of the films of Renoir and Howard Hawks. He is known for portraying complex female characters and is considered influential on the female buddy film genre.
- 1 1928-1950: Early life and move to Paris
- 2 1950-1956: Film criticism and Le Coup du berger
- 3 1957-1961: Paris Belongs to Us and the French New Wave
- 4 1962-1967: Editor of Cahiers du cinéma and The Nun controversy
- 5 1968-1972: Political activism and developing his own cinematic style
- 6 1973-1982: Fantasy films and nervous breakdown
- 7 1983-1991: Partnership with Marignac and increased recognition
- 8 1992-2009: Later films and retirement
- 9 Themes and style
- 10 Legacy
- 11 Personal life
- 12 Filmography
- 13 References
- 14 External links
1928-1950: Early life and move to Paris
Jacques Pierre Louis Rivette was born in Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France to André Rivette and Andrée Amiard; a family "where everyone is a pharmacist". His childhood friend André Ruellan wrote that Rivette's father was a skilled painter who loved opera music. He was educated at the Lycée Pierre-Corneille and said he briefly studied literature at a university "just to keep myself occupied." Inspired by Jean Cocteau's book about the making of La Belle et la Bête, Rivette decided to pursue filmmaking and began frequenting ciné-clubs. In 1948 he shot his first short film, Aux Quatre Coins filmed in the Côte Sainte-Catherine section of Rouen. The following year he moved to Paris with his friend Francis Bouchet because "if you wanted to make films it was the only way." On the day he arrived he met future collaborator Jean Gruault, who invited him to see Les dames du Bois de Boulogne at the Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin. Éric Rohmer, whose film criticism Rivette knew and admired, gave a lecture at the screening.
Rivette submitted his short film to the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques because it "was the kind of thing that would have pleased my parents", but was not accepted into the school. He took courses at the Sorbonne, but began frequenting film screenings at Henri Langlois's Cinémathèque Française with Bouchet instead of attending classes. At the Cinémathèque Rivette became immersed in older films from the silent and early "Talkie" era along with Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman, Gruault and Bouchet. Rivette and this group of young cinephiles gradually got to know each other while always sitting in the front row of the Cinématographiques during screenings. He met Truffaut at a screening of The Rules of the Game and sat next to Godard at the Cinémathèque for several months before Godard finally introduced himself. Rivette became an active participate at post-screening debates and Rohmer said that at regular film quiz competitions at the Studio Parnasse, Rivette was "unbeatable." Rivette credited Langlois's screenings and lectures for helping him preserver during his early impoverished years in Paris and told Langlois "a word from you saved me and opened the doors of the temple." Unlike his contemporaries, Rivette continued to attend screening at the Cinémathèque well into the 1970s.
Rivette and his friends also attended screenings at the Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin, run by Rohmer. In 1950 Rivette began to write film criticism for the Gazette du Cinéma, co-founded by Rohmer and Bouchet. The journal ceased publication after five issues. Rivette said that being a critic was never his aim, but it was "a good exercise." That same year he made his second short film Le Quadrille. It was produced by and starred Godard, who said that he raised the money by stealing and selling his grandfathers collection of rare first edition Paul Valéry books. Rivette described it as a film in which "absolutely nothing happens. Its just four people sitting around a table, looking at each other." Film critic Tom Milne said that it had "a certain hypnotic, obsessional quality as, for 40 minutes, it attempted to show what happens when nothing happens." It was screened at the Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin and Rivette said that "After ten minutes, people started to leave, and at the end, the only ones who stayed were Jean-Luc and a girl." Rivette later said that the film was Lettrist and that Lettrist founder Isidore Isou called it "ingenious".
1950-1956: Film criticism and Le Coup du berger
After being casual acquaintances and collaborators, Rivette and his fellow cinephiles became close friends in September 1950 at the Festival Indépendant du Film Maudit (Independent Festival of Accursed Film), a film festival in Biarritz put on by film critics Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, André Bazin and members of Objectif 49 (an avant-garde group of established artists). Rivette, Godard, Truffaut and future cinematographer Charles Bitsch arrived at the gala event in casual attire and were refused entrance by the doorman until Cocteau finally allowed them to enter. Once inside they were openly antagonistic towards members of Objectif 49 and loudly criticized the festival. This evening cemented the strong friendship of the group and gained them the reputation of being bohemian "Young Turks" and troublemakers. Chabrol, Gruault, Rohmer and Jean Douchet also attended and the entire group roomed together at the Biarritz Lycée dormitory during the festival. Rivette criticized the festival in the November issue of Gazette du cinéma, calling Objectif 49 arrogant and claiming victory against them.
Rivette quickly became thought of as the leader of the group, whom Bazin dubbed the "Hitchcocko-Hawksians." Douchet said that "he was the great talker. He was the group's secret soul, the occult thinker, a bit of a censor." Godard said that "I might like a film very much, but if Rivette said 'It's no good' then I would agree with him…it was as though he had a privileged access to cinematographic truth." Rivette was known to live ascetically on minimal resources; Chabrol said that he was very thin and hardly ate, comparing his smile to the Cheshire Cat. Gruault described Rivette as always having "the desperate smile of someone who must subject themselves to constant efforts to be accepted by a world he seems to feel is irredeemably hostile." Truffaut called Rivette his best friend and they became frequent companions at screenings. Truffaut said that at that time Rivette was the only member of the group who was already capable of directing a feature film. Rivette and his new friends bonded by spending entire days seeing films and watched repeated screenings of the same film, then walked home together while talking about the films they had just seen.
In 1951 Bazin founded the new film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma and quickly hired most of the "Hitchcocko–Hawksians". Rivette began writing for the magazine in February 1953. Serge Daney said Rivette's writing style "was by far the most forceful of anyone writing at that time." Rivette said that his assertiveness "matched my character at that time". Truffaut wrote that "his articles are the most comprehensive and the best that have ever been published in Cahiers." Antoine de Baecque said that "his articles are often the most carefully thought out, and provide the most elegant formulation of some of the Cahiers's fundamental beliefs regarding cinema." Douglas Morrey wrote that "Rivette's articles on films are both verbose and incisive, at the same time carefully worked-out analyses and blunt statements of adoration." Rivette championed such American directors as Howard Hawks, John Ford, Nicholas Ray and Fritz Lang, as well as such international directors as Roberto Rossellini and Kenji Mizoguchi. He was also highly critical of established French directors of the qualité française like Claude Autant-Lara, Henri-Georges Clouzot and Rene Clement and wrote that they were afraid to take risks and corrupted by money. According to Cahiers writer Fereydoun Hoveyda, all of the early contributors to the magazine were politically right-wing, with the exception of Pierre Kast and Rivette.
In early 1954 Rivette and Truffaut (nicknamed "Truffette and Rivaut") began a series of interviews with film directors that they admired. These interviews were influential on the craft of film criticism by using a Grundig portable tape recorder, which weighed over 9-pounds and was never used by journalists. While most reporting on the entertainment industry was usually limited to short sound bites or anecdotes from movie stars, Rivette and Truffaut took the time to become acquainted with the directors that they interviewed and allowed them to talk in depth about their work, publishing each interview verbatim. From 1954 to 1957 Cahiers du Cinéma published a series of interviews with notable film directors, including Jacques Becker, Abel Gance, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini and Orson Welles.
While writing criticism Rivette continued his filmmaking career. In the summer of 1952 Rivette made his third short film, Le Divertissement. Bitsch called it "a Rohmer-esque Marivaudage between young men and women." He worked as an assistant for Jacques Becker and Jean Renoir and was a cinematographer on Truffaut's short Une Visite and Rohmer's short Bérénice. He was eager to make a feature film and talked about making elaborate adaptions of works by André Gide, Raymond Radiguet and Ernst Jünger. With financial support from Chabrol and producer Pierre Braunberger, Rivette made the 35mm short film Le Coup du Berger in 1956. Written by Rivette, Chabrol and Bitsch, the film is about a young girl who receives a mink coat from her lover and must hide it from her husband, with spoken commentary by Rivette describing the action like moves in a chess game. Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Jean-Claude Brialy acted in the film, and Godard, Truffaut, Bitsch and Robert Lachenay appear as extras. It was shot in Chabrol's apartment and distributed by Braunberger in 1957. Truffaut wrote that Le Coup du berger was the inspiration for himself, Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Georges Franju to make their first films, stating "it had begun. And it had begun thanks to Jacques Rivette. Of all of us he was the most fiercely determined to move."
1957-1961: Paris Belongs to Us and the French New Wave
In 1957 Italian Neorealism film director Roberto Rossellini announced that he wanted to produce a series of films about life in France. Several of the key members of the French New Wave submitted scripts that would eventually become their first films, such as Chabrol's Le Beau Serge, Rohmer's Sign of Leo, and Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Rivette was the most committed to completing a film through Rossellini's proposal and he and co-writer Gruault met with Rossellini to discuss their idea of the Cité Universitaire being the "melting pot of cultures and ideas" in Paris. Rossellini suggested that the two research the project and Rivette and Gruault gathered material. Shortly after they were paid 100,000 francs for their script titled La Cité, financing fell through and Rossellini went to India to make a film of his own, leaving the entire project abandoned.
Rivette and Gruault revised their story based on Rossellini's criticisms and wrote Paris Belongs to Us. Using borrowed equipment, a loan of 80,000 francs from Cahiers du Cinéma and short ends of film stock provided by Chabrol, Paris Belongs to Us was shot without sound in the summer of 1958, then post-synced in 1959. Rivette shot the film in such locations as the roof of the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, the Rue des Cannettes, the Place Sorbonne, the Arts bridge. Its title is a reference to Charles Péguy's quote "Paris belongs to no one." Rivette struggled to finish the film or find distributors interested in it.
In Paris Belongs to Us, Anne (Betty Schneider), a young Parisian student rehearsing for a production of Shakespeare's Pericles, has to deal with the sudden death of the play's composer, a missing tape recording of the play's musical score, a secret society seeking world domination, an eccentric and paranoid American journalist, the suicide of the play's producer and the mysterious death of her brother. Chabrol, Godard, Jacques Demy, and Rivette all appear in minor roles.
Le Beau Serge and The 400 Blows were enormous successes and at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival Truffaut and Chabrol used their newfound fame to promote and help Rivette finish Paris Belongs to Us. Truffaut secured funds to complete the film and wrote that "the release of Paris nous appartient is a score for every member of the Cahiers du cinéma team." Truffaut helped Rivette premiere it at the Studio des Ursulines on 16 December 1961, followed by a release at the Agriculteurs cinema in Paris. Reviews for the film were mixed, but it received praise from L'Express. Pierre Marcabru of Combat said that "the connection between image and sound has never been so striking, evocative or necessary." Jeander of Liberation praised the film's depiction of "the moral and intellectual confusion of these young people who are repressed by their epoch for more than their elders." Rivette later said "it's the film of a sixteen-year-old child, but maybe its naïveté is where its strength lies." Rivette won the Sutherland Trophy for best first film from the British Film Institute.
Despite being the first of his friends to begin work on a feature film, Chabrol, Truffaut, Godard and Rohmer all had their feature film debuts distributed before him in what the French press dubbed New Wave cinema. Rivette later compared the New Wave to Impressionist painting; the availability of paint in tubes allowing painters to go outdoors was similar to technological advancement allowing filmmakers to shoot freely in the streets. However, such technical innovations as faster film stocks and the portable Nagra sound recorder became available just after he had finished shooting Paris Belongs to Us.
1962-1967: Editor of Cahiers du cinéma and The Nun controversy
After the financial failure of Paris Belongs to Us, Rivette pitched a film adaptation of Denis Diderot's novel La Religieuse to producer Georges de Beauregard, but Beauregard was not interested. Undaunted Rivette and co-writer Gruault began writing the script and in 1962 Rivette suggested that Godard's wife Anna Karina would be perfect in the lead role. Godard agreed but both Beauregard and producer Eric Schulmberger rejected the idea after the Commission de Controle's (the French censorship board) review ruled that it would be banned.
Godard and Karina secured funding from theatrical producer Antoine Bourseiller to produce La Religieuse as a play. Rivette directed and Godard produced the three-hour production, which opened on 6 February 1963 at the Studio des Champs-Élysées and closed on 5 March. It was a financial failure but received good reviews and Karina won several awards for her performance. Lotte Eisner called it "the most beautiful theatre I have seen since Bertolt Brecht." Rivette's staging was in the classical style of Marivaux and intentionally simplistic. Rivette and Gruault continued re-writing the film script, which was finally passed by the censorship board. However Bourseiller could not afford to produce a film version and the project was put on hold.
After the death of Bazin in 1958, Rohmer was made editor-in-chief of Cahiers du cinéma. By 1962 Rohmer, known to be more conservative than many of his fellow contributors, was often at odds with the staff due to not promoting New Wave filmmakers. Several of their films had been financial flops so the directors wanted better publicity and for Cahiers to be an "instrument of combat" for the New Wave. Rohmer profiled New Wave filmmakers in the December 1962 issue, but resigned in June 1963; Rivette was appointed his successor. Rohmer later said that being pressured to leave the magazine was the best thing that could have happened to him as a film director.
Under Rivette's leadership, Cahiers changed from an apolitical film magazine to a Marxist magazine that examined the relationship between politics and modern culture. Unlike Rohmer, Rivette allowed writers like Michel Delahaye and Jean-Louis Comolli to publish articles that gravitated towards politics and philosophy not necessarily related to films. They wrote articles on Martin Heidegger and Louis Althusser and interviewed non-filmmakers such as Roland Barthes and composer Pierre Boulez. Rivette and Delahaye's 1963 interview with Barthes is considered the turning point for Cahiers into a magazine analyzing film from a semiology perspective. Rivette was a very ambitious and financially irresponsible editor. He oversaw an expensive 250-page double issue on American films, and shortly afterwards Cahiers needed financial help. It was bought by teen magazine owner Daniel Filipacchi and its style became "splashier" and more youth orientated. Rivette remained editor until April 1965 and was replaced by Jean-Louis Comolli.
Immediately after Rivette left Cahiers Beauregard was ready to make The Nun (La Religieuse) and Rivette and Gruault again revised their script. Rivette described the script as a record of the stage play with a "highly written texture." On 31 August 1965 the censors told Beauregard that the film "run[s] the risk of being totally or partially cut." Beauregard decided to ignore the censors and Rivette began shooting in October. The film was controversial before it was completed; members of the French Catholic church began a letter writing campaign against it and put pressure on Paris police commissioner Maurice Papon and Minister of Information Alain Peyrefitte to take action against the film, who both said they would ban it.
Rivette finished the film in 1966. It was twice approved by the censor board in March, but in April the new Minister of Information Yvon Bourges overrode these approvals and banned it. In response to this Beauregard started a public campaign in defense of the film and many journalists wrote editorials demanding its release, including Godard and Chabrol. A "Manifesto of the 1,789" in support of the film was signed by such people as Jacques Prévert, Raymond Queneau, Marguerite Duras and several major French book publishers. Many Catholic priests and nuns also denounced the ban on grounds of freedom of speech. Rivette told Le Figaro litteraire "it was as though they had guillotined us," and in Rouen Rivette's father André vehemently defended the film against the city municipality's efforts to ban it.
Godard wrote a lengthy editorial that criticized Minister of Culture André Malraux. Shortly afterwards Malraux publically defended the film and allowed it to premiere at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, which was not accountable to censorship. At Cannes the film was critically praised. Meanwhile, Beauregard had filed a lawsuit against the censorship board and eventually won the case. French President Charles de Gaulle called the controversy "silly" and ordered his newly appointed Minister of Information Georges Gorce to lift the ban. It was finally released on 26 July 1967 and the publicity helped turn it into Rivette's only hit film. It received many good reviews, but Guy Daussois of Le Populaire said it was "marked by a schematization and over simplicity that is rarely encountered, with absolutely no human depth."
The Nun stars Karina as Suzanne Simonin, a young woman forced into a convent by her cruel family and is physically and psychologically tortured. She attempts to persevere and escape from the convent all while dealing with her hateful mother, the empathetic mother superior, a usually absent lawyer, a lesbian nun and a sympathetic (but lustful) monk. Rivette stated that "the shooting of La Religieuse was difficult…I was troubled because we had done the piece before as a play with the sentiments, rehearsals, etc, and I realized when I shot the film that since the people were doing the same text, the same words, my mind was wondering and I was no longer listening to the words." Karina described Rivette's direction as often hyperactive and that he was constantly "darting in and out of all corners…always looking at this or that detail."
After the controversy of The Nun Rivette created a series of documentaries on director Jean Renoir for the French television series Cinéastes de notre temps. They aired in 1966 under the title Jean Renoir, le patron. Around this time Rivette and Gruault worked on a script for The Taking of Power by Louis XIV. Rivette decided that he didn't want to direct another costume drama and Rossellini directed the film in 1966.
1968-1972: Political activism and developing his own cinematic style
In February 1968 Henri Langlois was ousted from the Cinémathèque Francaise by Malraux and Minister of Cultural Affairs Pierre Moinot, and a government appointed board of directors took control. Rivette and his old friends immediately reunited to fight for Langlois's reinstatement. With the Cahiers du Cinéma office as their headquarters, current and former staff members (including Rivette, Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer and Chabrol) began a mass letter writing and telephone campaign to recruit support for Langlois. Within days filmmakers from around the world announced that they would ban screenings of their films unless Langlois was reinstated. Journalists from Le Monde and Combat supported Langlois and on 12 February several hundred members of the film industry protested outside the Cinémathèque. Two days later over three-thousand people protested, causing aggressive police to beat many of them with clubs. During this time Rivette spoke at a press conference and lead a charge past the police barricade, briefly getting into the Cinémathèque with Anne Wiazemsky. In March Rivette was appointed to an advisory committee and in April Langlois was reinstated to the Cinémathèque.
These protests lead to the creation of the Etats généraux du cinéma francais, a committee of film industry workers who wanted more freedom to make films and to take control of the industry away from the Centre national de la cinématographie. At a meeting Rivette actively attended in May, the committee called for a strike of film industry workers and for the 1968 Cannes Film Festival to be shut down in solidarity. Rivette called Truffaut at Cannes with the news and Truffaut, Godard and other directors successfully shut down the festival. In Paris the Etats généraux du cinéma francais organized mass street protests and were a part of the entire May 68 protest movement in Paris.
His next film was L'amour fou. Frustrated with the conventions of filmmaking, Rivette wanted to create an improvisational atmosphere in the making of the film. He disposed of a script, shot list or specific direction and instead experimented with scenarios and bringing groups of actors together to create a pure film. Rivette had a limited budget and shot the film in five weeks. Rivette saw performances from director Marc'O's experimental-improvisational theater group and cast Marc'O actors Jean-Pierre Kalfon and Bulle Ogier to play the lead roles; other Marc'O performers appeared in supporting roles. Rivette said that he cast Kalfon because they look nothing alike and he was self-conscious of the autobiographical aspects of the character.
The film has several layers, including a theatrical group rehearsing a production of Jean Racine's Andromaque, a TV documentary crew filming the making of the stage production in 16mm and the backstage story about the relationship between the stage director (Kalfon) and his wife and lead actress (Ogier). The film ends with an hour-long argument between Kalfon and Ogier where they completely destroy their apartment and its contents. Kalfon was allowed to direct the stage play during filming. Rivette cast André S. Labarthe as the director of the TV crew after having worked with him on Cinéastes de notre temps and allowed him to direct the 16mm footage. Rivette and cinematographer Alain Levent then filmed both the stage performers and the TV crew on 35mm from a distance and never interfered with any of the performers. The film was entirely improvised, including the sequence where Kalfon and Ogier destroy their apartment, which was difficult since it was the only set and no re-takes were possible. Released in 1969, the 252-minute film received positive reviews. L'amour fou won Rivette his second Sutherland Trophy from the British Film Institute.
Rivette had found his own cinematic style during the making of this film. He has stated that "with improvisation, you automatically listen", and that an author is an "analyst, a person who must listen to what the people say—all words are important. You must listen to all and not have any preconcieved ideas as a director." Invigorated by his new film-making techniques, Rivette invited over forty actors (including Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto, Michael Lonsdale and Bulle Ogier) to each develop a character for a new film without interacting with each other or given a specific plot. He then developed a basic structure for what would become Out 1. From April until June 1970, Rivette shot over 30 hours of 16mm footage as his cast improvised a story involving conspiracy theories and theatrical rehearsals.
Out 1 stars Jean-Pierre Leaud as Colin, a Parisian con-artist who pretends to be a deaf-mute. He begins to receive anonymous messages which reference Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark and Honoré de Balzac's Histoire des Treize (The Thirteen). Colin becomes obsessed with these messages and begins to believe that a real life utopian secret society, like the one described in Balzac's short story, exists and is contacting him. Colin is led to a boutique and meets Frederique (Juliet Berto), a young thief. Together Colin and Frederique use some stolen letters to track down who they believe to be the secret group Thirteen in a house where two different groups of actors are separately rehearsing for productions of Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound and Seven Against Thebes.
Out 1 was shown only once in its 760-minute original version at the Maison de la Culture in Le Havre from 9–10 September 1971. Over 300 people attended the weekend long premiere and Martin Even of Le Monde called it a "voyage beyond cinema" because most of the audience had travelled from Paris to see it. It was originally intended to be shown on television in 12 parts, but the Office de Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise refused to show it or purchase it. With help from Suzanne Schiffman, Rivette spent over a year editing a 260-minute version called Out 1: Spectre, released in 1974. Out 1 has received rave reviews and become a cult film; the first revival screening of the original version was at the Rotterdam Film Festival in February 1989. It was first shown in the US at the Museum of the Moving Image in December 2006 to a sold out audience. It was finally shown on French TV in the early 1990s. For years the film was notoriously difficult to see in its entirety and both Jonathan Rosenbaum and Dennis Lim have called it a "holy grail" for cinephiles.
1973-1982: Fantasy films and nervous breakdown
In the summer of 1973 Rivette attempted to make Phénix, a film about the theatrical world of Paris in the early 1900s that would have starred Jeanne Moreau. Due to the costly budget necessary to make the film, he was forced to abandon it. Rivette then made his most critically regarded film, Céline and Julie Go Boating. "Aller en bateau" ("go boating") is French slang meaning "to be caught up in fiction" or "to be taken for a ride". Rivette met with actresses and real life friends Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier to develop two characters that they would like to play, then developed a plot and script with collaborator Eduardo de Gregorio. He later said that during this pre-production period he "never had as much [fun]. I don’t believe I ever laughed as much." Unlike his previous two films, Rivette did not utilize improvisation during the filming, stating that the plot was carefully constructed ahead of time.
Filled with references to Alice in Wonderland, Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust, Céline and Julie Go Boating begins when Julie (Labourier), and Céline (Berto) meet by chance and become friends. Together they begin to visit a mysterious "House of Fiction" where exactly the same melodrama (based on two short stories by Henry James) play out every day, ending with the murder of a young girl by the bizarre Camille (Ogier). Shot in five weeks during the summer of 1973, the film won the Special Prize of the Jury at the 1974 Locarno International Film Festival. It was produced by Barbet Schroeder and distributed by Les films du losange. Jonathan Rosenbaum has praised the film and wrote that he knows "many women who consider Céline et Julie vont en bateau their favorite movie about female friendship."
Rivette then conceived and obtained funding for a series of four films called Scènes de la vie parallèle. With each film revolving around two female characters, Part 1 was to be a love story, Part 2 a fantasy, Part 3 an adventure and Part 4 a musical comedy. Rivette said that his intention for the film series was "to invent a new approach to film acting, where speech, pared down to essential phrases, precise formulae, would play the role of poetic punctuation. Neither a return to silent cinema nor a pantomime, nor choreography: something else, where the movements of the bodies, their counterpoint and inscription in the space of the screen, will be the basis of mise-en-scene." The tetralogy was intended to reflect the political situation in France, such as the conservative backlash after May '68 and the election of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and would be tied together by improvisational musical scores. Rivette collaborated on the scenarios with de Gregorio and Parolini.
In Duelle (a play on words roughly translated as Twhylight), the Queen of the Night (Juliet Berto) battles the Queen of the Sun (Bulle Ogier) over a magical diamond that will allow the winner to remain on earth, specifically modern day Paris. In Noroît (another word play roughly translated as Nor'west), the pirate Morag (Geraldine Chaplin), seeks revenge against the pirate Giulia (Bernadette Lafont) for killing her brother. Duelle was shot in March and April 1975 and Noroît was shot in May 1975 in Brittany. De Gregorio had seen a stage play of Cyril Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy and suggested it to Rivette. It was written in 15th century Old English, causing some difficulty for the actresses.
In August 1975 Rivette began filming Part 1 of the series, a love story starring Albert Finney and Leslie Caron called Marie et Julien. After three days of shooting Rivette suffered a breakdown due to nervous exhaustion, and production of the series was abandoned. Rivette later said that he "broke down physically…I had overestimated my own strength." Marguerite Duras offered to finish the film, but the actors refused to continue without Rivette. In 2003 Rivette said that Marie et Julien was based on the true story of a woman who committed suicide. The intended musical comedy fourth film would have starred Anna Karina and Jean Marais. Noroît premiered in London and screened at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, but was never distributed. Both films received mediocre reviews and caused problems for Rivette with the producer's of the series, although Rivette said that Susan Sontag enjoyed Noroît and Jean Rouch recognized ancient stories from African myths in the plot whereas Rivette had consciously included old Celtic myths.
Rivette said that it took him over a year to recover from his breakdown. Producer Stéphane Tchalgadjieff had meanwhile renegotiated the business deal for the Scènes de la vie parallèle series to only require one more film, either the intended first or fourth film of the series. Rivette decided he wanted to film either both or neither of the films in the series, so he made the unrelated film Merry-Go-Round instead. Rivette received word from Tchalgadjieff that Maria Schneider wanted to make a film with him and actor Joe Dallesandro, and Rivette accepted. Shot in 1978, but not completed until 1981, the film is a detective story about a missing sister and a missing inheritance. Rivette used relied on improvisation during production, which he described as "going very badly" after only a few days. Schneider was also recovering from an illness and both she and Rivette constantly wanted to abandon the project, but were always persuaded to continue by the cast and crew. Rivette said "there were two people in poor health during filming, and also, there wasn’t any money at all." Over a year after he had completed shooting the film, Rivette decided to add footage of the film's composers Barre Phillips and John Surman performing, which he edited into the film despite it being unrelated to the plot or characters. It was not theatrically released until 1983 and received mediocre reviews.
In 1980 Rivette decided to "remake" Out 1. Ogier, the only original cast member available for the project, and her daughter Pascale Ogier worked with Rivette on the characters as Rivette had done 10 years earlier to develop the film. Along with co-screenwriter Suzanne Schiffman, they made the 30-minute short film Paris s'en va as a "sketch" for the eventual feature Le Pont du Nord, which was distributed in 1982. Le Pont du Nord stars Bulle and Pascale Ogier as two women who randomly meet and investigate a strange Snakes and Ladders-like map of Paris and a mysterious man named Max. Rivette had difficulty finding financing and the Centre national de la cinématographie refused to fund it three times. One way Rivette accommodated the tight budget was to make Bulle Ogier's character claustrophobic because he couldn't afford to film many interior scenes. Rivette's biographer Mary Wiles believes that as Paris Belong to Us is a reflection of France in the 1950s and Out 1 in the 1960s, Le Pont du Nord completes the trilogy by reflecting the social and political milieu of France in the 1970s.
1983-1991: Partnership with Marignac and increased recognition
Rivette's difficulties in securing financial backing for his films in the late 1970s lead him to begin a business partnership with Pierre Grise productions and producer Martine Marignac. The company would serve as a chief distributor and financier for all of Rivette's films thereafter. Their first film together Love on the Ground, released in 1984, was another film about a theatrical group and the blur between fiction and reality. Chaplin and Jane Birkin star as two members of a theatrical troupe who are invited to appear in a new play that closely resembles the real life of its director (Kalfon) and the mysterious disappearance of his wife.
Wanting to take a break from his experimental and complex style, Rivette next adapted Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Based on the first part of the novel and set in 1930s southern France, Hurlevent stars three unknown actors: Fabienne Babe as Catherine, Lucas Belvaux as Roch (Heathcliff), and Oliver Cruveiller as Catherine's brother William. This was the first film in years where Rivette did not use his usual troupe of actors and technicians. Rivette modeled the film's visual style on the India ink illustrations of the painter Balthus. It was released in 1985.
In 1988 Rivette received critical acclaim for his film La Bande des quatre (Gang of Four), about four drama students whose lives playfully alternate between the theater, real life and make believe. Rivette wanted to make a film about young people working on a play and said that "the work is always much more interesting to show than the result." It was entered into the 39th Berlin International Film Festival and won an Honourable Mention.
Rivette enjoyed working with the four young actresses in La Bande des quatre so much that he wanted the experience to continue, resulting to his return to the theater. The actresses had performed a scene from Pierre Corneille's Suréna in La Bande des quatre, so Rivette, the actresses and additional performers rehearsed Corneille's Tite et Bérénice, Jean Racine's Bajazet and a play by Pierre de Marivaux that was eventually dropped "because he was too hard". After weeks of rehearsals the actresses wanted to perform the plays. The plays premiered at the Théâtre Gérard Philipe in Saint-Denis and played from 18 April 1989 until 20 May. Rivette said that Corneille's play was more interesting for the actresses and that he was "very deep. He's an author I find very sense, so full of history, of thought."
Saul Austerlitz called La Bande des quatre's success "Rivette’s second wind as a filmmaker" and it led to La Belle Noiseuse (The Beautiful Troublemaker), Rivette's most acclaimed film of his later career. Loosely based on the Balzac short story The Unknown Masterpiece, the film depicts the relationship between a reclusive and uninspired painter Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli), his wife and former model Liz (Birkin) and his new model Marianne (Emmanuelle Béart). Marianne inspires Frenhofer to finish his long abandoned magnum opus painting La Belle Noiseuse, while Liz and Marianne's boyfriend become increasingly jealous. The four-hour film famously shows in real time the progress of the painting, one brush stroke at a time (provided in hand close up by French abstract painter Bernard Dufour). Rivette said that "we tried truly to make a film not that talked about painting, but that approached it." The film won Rivette the Grand Prix at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival and the Prix Méliès from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics. It received five César Award nominations, including Best Picture and Rivette's only nomination for Best Director. Shortly after its success at Cannes, a two-hour version called La Belle Noiseuse: Divertimento was theatrically released.
1992-2009: Later films and retirement
Rivette then made a two-part film about the life of Joan of Arc called Joan the Maiden: Joan the Maiden, Part 1: The Battles and Joan the Maiden, Part 2: The Prisons. Rivette's film differed from previous well-known interpretations of Joan from Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson by focusing more on her popularity in France than on her personal suffering and saintly martyrdom. Rivette shot parts of the film in his hometown of Rouen and had memories of studying Charles Péguy's books on Joan, which the films were loosely based on. The film starred Sandrine Bonnaire as Joan and was released in 1994.
Joan the Maiden was very expensive to make and not a financial success. Because of this Martine Marignac wanted to make a very inexpensive film in a short amount of time. Rivette had no ideas but began gathering cast members. He contacted Nathalie Richard and Marianne Denicourt and Laurence Côte, who gave him the idea for a film about the Taxi dance halls in 1920s New York City. This idea lead to Up, Down, Fragile in 1995. In the film Richard, Denicourt and Côte star as three women struggling with their own personal obstacles, with musical numbers performed at a mysterious nightclub commenting on their lives. The film pays tribute to Hollywood Backstage musicals of the 1920s and 1930s. Anna Karina appears as a nightclub singer and her musical numbers reference her previous film's with Godard. It was screened at the 19th Moscow International Film Festival.
Rivette's 1998 film policier Top Secret stars Bonnaire as an young scientist whose brother (Grégoire Colin) convinces her that their father was killed by Walser (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) and seeks revenge. It was loosely based on the myth of Electra, however Rivette said he was more influenced by Jean Giraudoux's lesser known play than on classical versions by Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides. It also pays tribute to Double Indemnity and Wiles sees influences from Hitchcock's Vertigo and Strangers on a Train. Wiles called Rivette's three films with Bonnaire feminist and said that they "reveal a deep personal connection with [Rivette]."
2001's Va savoir stars Jeanne Balibar and Sergio Castellitto as a couple caught up in various romantic farces as they attempt to stage Luigi Pirandello's Come tu mi vuoi and search for a missing manuscript. Rivette pays tribute to the screwball comedies of Howard Hawks and includes a direct reference to It Happened One Night. The character of theatrical director Ugo is intentionally similar to Gerard in Paris Belongs to Us. A longer version called Va Savoir+ was released the following year. Austerlitz called it "a stunning film, and is yet another peak in Jacques Rivette's exceptional career."
In 2002 Rivette published a book of the scripts of three of his unmade films, including Marie et Julien. Marie et Julien had never been written as a completed script and the footage from the three days of shooting was lost. Rivette instead worked from "cryptic notes" written by his assistant Claire Denis that cinematographer Lubtchansky had kept for decades. His work to write a readable script for the publication lead to his resurrection of the project. Rivette, Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent collaborated on the script with the actors during production on the revised The Story of Marie and Julien. Rivette cast Béart and Radziwilowicz in the lead roles, stating that it was "more interesting and more exciting" to work with actors that he had previously worked with, and some of the dialogue that was in the original notes was directly quoted. Although it lacks the improvisational musical score that tied the first two films together, Madame X is similar to the goddess of the moon and Marie is similar to the goddess of the sun. It premiered at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival.
In 2007 he made The Duchess of Langeais (Ne touchez pas la hache), a faithful adaptation of Balzac's novel, which was the second novella of Balzac's trilogy Histoire des treize (the introduction of which inspired Out 1). Jeanne Balibar and Guillaume Depardieu star as lovers in early 1823 Majorca who are involved in a tormented and frustrating relationship. It premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. In 2009 he made 36 vues du pic Saint-Loup. Birkin stars as a woman who returns to the circus troupe of her childhood after her father dies and begins a romantic relationship with a wealthy Italian drifter (Sergio Castellitto). It premiered at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. Rivette retired from filmmaking after the completion of the film.
Themes and style
Rivette's films often include themes involving mysteries and conspiracy theories and employ heavy improvisation during their production. Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that "Every Rivette film has its Eisenstein/Lang/Hitchcock side—an impulse to design and plot, dominate and control—and its Renoir/Hawks/Rossellini side: an impulse to 'let things go,' open one's self up to the play and power of other personalities, and watch what happens."
Rivette's use of improvisation resulted directly from his negative experience filming The Nun, witnessing Jean Rouch's cinéma vérité documentaries, and particularly his lengthy interview with Jean Renoir while making Jean Renoir, le patron. Rivette stated that he wasn't comfortable with his own work until he made L'Amour fou. In describing his difficulty in shooting The Nun and in finding his own cinematic style, Rivette said that "sometimes it is necessary to go a very long distance out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly." Rivette wrote a ten-page outline for L'amour fou, which he then developed with Marilù Parolini and the actors before production began. He and Parolini then wrote a thirty-page "calendar" of events that outlined the actions of the film's characters and gave the actors complete control of their actions and dialogue during production. Rivette said that "What was exciting was creating a reality which began to have an existence on its own, independently of whether it was being filmed or not, then to treat it as an event that you're doing a documentary." He continued using improvisation throughout his career with slight variations. Parolini said that on Love on the Ground they wrote "a biographical sheet for each of the characters and a list of numbered scenes providing a course of action, mostly related to the work schedule." Rivette would then rehearse improvised scenes with the actors and collaborate with Parolini, Suzanne Schiffmann and Pascal Bonitzer to write a script based on the improvisation.
While interviewing Renoir, Rivette was inspired by Renoir's relationship with actors on set and his willingness to allow them to improvise and thus create a higher form of realism. Rivette said that
The three weeks I spent with Renoir…made quite an impression on me. After a lie, all of a sudden, here was the truth. After a basically-artificial cinema, here was the truth of the cinema. I therefore wanted to make a film, not inspired by Renoir, but trying to conform to the idea of a cinema incarnated by Renoir, a cinema which does not impose anything, where one tries to suggest things, to let them happen, where it is mainly a dialogue at every level, with the actors, with the situation, with the people you meet, where the act of filming is part of the film itself.
Jean-André Fieschi has hypothesized that Rivette was influenced by a 1964 Cahiers interview he conducted with composed Pierre Boulez. Boulez said that his compositions were "guided by chance" and "a kind of labyrinth…with a number of paths."
Another major influence on Rivette's work was Jean Cocteau, who first inspired his pursuit of filmmaking. Rivette became close to Cocteau towards the end of Cocteau's life, which Wiles called a filial relationship. The themes and tone of Noroit was partially an homage to Cocteau's work on Pelléas et Mélisande, Duelle makes direct references to Blood of a Poet and Les Chevaliers de la Table ronde and Celine and Julie Go Boating was influenced by Orphée
Rivette admired André Bazin and described him as "the only person I'd met who gave me a feeling of sainthood." However Rivette's writing was sometimes at odds with Bazin's philosophies on realism and formalism. He was also influenced by Truffaut's auteur theory and his 1954 article "A Certain Trend of French Cinema", which criticized the artificial theatricality and staged look of many films. Although Rivette agreed with Truffaut's theories, almost all of his film's revolve around a theatrical production. He wrote that "All films are about the theatre, there is no other subject…the subject of truth and lies…Performance is the subject. Taking it as the subject of a film is being frank." Jacques Aumont said that Rivette uses the theater and the portrayal of theater to achieve "a true realism" in films and Wiles believes that his theatricality is "an implicit response to Bazin"'s belief in realism.
Rivette also rejected the auteur theory, calling it a myth and stating that "there is no auteur in films…a film is something which preexists in its own right. It is only interesting if you have this feeling that the film preexists and that you are trying to reach it, to discover it, taking precautions to avoid spoiling it or deforming it." Tesi di Laurea wrote that Rivette's use of improvisation "is based on the idea to get rid of the author and director, [and] is made possible only by the network of collaborators that the director has woven around himself…The figure of the author, rather than disappear, is blown up and, once fragmented, is embodied in a number of people, interacting with each other, creating day by day the scaffolding on which the film is constructed." Rivette said that "if cinema has a social function it's really to make people confront other systems of thought, or other systems of living than the ones they habitually know."
Michel Marie has compared the shots of Paris in Paris Belongs to Us to scenes in Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires and René Clair's Paris qui dort and the vague secret police in the film to Doctor Mabuse in Fritz Lang's films. Marie wrote that "Rivette's Paris is an obscure maze, where intricate conspiracies are hatched by the vague Organization, a lucid premonition of the French Organization of the Secret Army (OAS). All of the characters feel threatened." James Monaco and Roy Ames criticized it for being too theatrical.
He has worked with several actors on multiple films, such as Jeanne Balibar, Emmanuelle Béart, Juliet Berto, Jane Birkin, Sandrine Bonnaire, Sergio Castellitto, Geraldine Chaplin, Laurence Côte, Marianne Denicourt, Nicole Garcia, Anna Karina, André Marcon, Bulle Ogier, Michel Piccoli, Jerzy Radziwilowicz and Nathalie Richard,. He often worked with such writers and technicians as Charles Bitsch, Pascal Bonitzer, Claire Denis, Eduardo de Gregorio, Jean Gruault, Christine Laurent, Nicole Lubtchansky, William Lubtchansky, Marilù Parolini and Suzanne Schiffman.
Rivette worked with editor Nicole Lubtchansky on all of his films beginning with L'amour fou. He said that he liked using long takes because "they're more enjoyable to do, the actors like them better." Beginning with Duelle, Rivette worked with Lubtchansky's husband William Lubtchansky as cinematographer on almost all of his films. Rivette and Lubtchansky did not plan the film's look in advance and collaborated on set after Rivette had already rehearsed the film with the actors. Dave Kehr wrote that "With Mr. Lubtchansky present, he would run through the scene several times, and then consult with his cinematographer to choose the camera angles and lighting schemes he believed most appropriate to the material." Lubtchansky's cinematography was different in all of the films and Rivette never established a signature visual style like other film directors. Kehr described Lubtchansky's work in Le Pont du Nord as "fluid, sunny images" and The Duchess of Langeais as a "dark, heavy, almost Germanic manner." Ronald Bergan praised Lubtchansky's cinematography on Duelle and Noroît for its "fluid camerawork, superb long takes and an atmospheric use of understated blues and reds" and said that Lubtchansky was "attuned to the director's sudden, intuitive changes and improvisations." Rivette also worked with Lubtchansky's daughter Irina Lubtchansky, who was co-cinematographer on 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup. David Thomson wrote that Rivette "always preferred a camera style that has the best of two of his gods — the detachment and flow of Renoir, with the classical form and control of Fritz Lang."
Rivette is considered of the more experimental of the French New Wave directors and in the 1970s Godard said that "someone like Rivette who knows cinema so much better than I shoots seldom, so people don't speak of him…if he had made 10 films he would have gone much farther than I." Film critic Raphaël Bassan said that Rivette is "the only filmmaker of the ex-New Wave—along with Godard—who keeps making truly personal work on the level of film, while his colleagues from the early days have long rejoined the ranks of the qualité française [mainstream French films]". Marc Chevrie has called Rivette "vaguely legendary but largely unknown." Josh Kupecki of The Austin Chronicle sees his influence on the films of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. American poet John Ashberry called Out 1 "the greatest film ever made." He was awarded the Pardo d’onore for his career achievements at the 1991 Locarno International Film Festival.
David Thomson has been a long-time champion of Rivette's work, calling him "one of the great directors working" and dubbing L'amour fou, Celine and Julie Go Boating and both versions of Out 1 as "masterpieces" in 2001.
Céline and Julie Go Boating has been inspirational on several films and Dennis Lim sees its influence in Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan, Sara Driver's Sleepwalk and David Lynch's Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire. It was also influential on and referenced in Erick Zonca's 1998 film The Dreamlife of Angels. In 1998, Entertainment Weekly ranked the film 99 in a list of the 100 greatest films ever made and Thomson called it "the most innovative film since Citizen Kane".
He said that he admired John Cassavetes, Robert Altman and Alan Rudolph for their rapport with actors and that the theatrical work of Peter Brook inspired him early in his career. In a 1998 interview with Les Inrockuptibles Rivette gave his blunt opinions on several films and filmmakers. He praised such films as Rossellini's Europa 51, Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers and Showgirls, stating that "It has great sincerity, and the script is very honest, guileless." Rivette was highly critical of Michael Haneke's Funny Games, Chabrol's Rien ne va plus, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve and James Cameron's Titanic, stating "Cameron isn't evil, he's not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can't direct his way out of a paper bag. On top of which the actress is awful, unwatchable."
Thomson said that Rivette "is famous for having little or no home life, certainly not a private life that overlaps with his work. On his own, he would rather sit in the dark with another movie" and in 1956 he was described as "too aloof and forbiddingly intellectual." Ogier has described Rivette as being very secretive about his life, stating "I've no idea what he does. I only see him when we're filming" or when bumping into him in public, although she feels very close to him. She also describes him as having neurosis and anxiety, causing him to often not answer the phone, and said that talking about his personal life would be indiscreet and a betrayal. Jean-Pierre Léaud described Rivette as a close friend and said that he "was the only person who saw everything in a film. And he transmitted everything he saw to us, setting in march our own aesthetic ideas." He was the subject of the 1990 documentary Jacques Rivette, the Night Watchman, directed by Claire Denis and Serge Daney. Travis Mackenzie Hoover wrote that the documentary portrays Rivette as having "lonerish tendencies" and as "a sort of transient with no home or country, wandering about or loitering in public space instead of staking out some personal terra firma."
In 1960 he briefly appeared with his girlfriend Marilù Parolini in Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin's cinéma vérité documentary Chronique d'un été. Parolini was a secretary at Cahiers and later an on-set still photographer for Rivette and other New Wave filmmakers. She later married Rivette, but they broke up shortly after the stage version of The Nun ended and eventually divorced. They continued a professional relationship and Parolini collaborated with Rivette on L'amour fou, Duelle, Noroît and Love on the Ground as a co-writer. She also took photographs on the sets of The Nun and Celine and Julie Go Boating.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jacques Rivette.|
- Jacques Rivette at the Internet Movie Database
- Jacques Rivette at AlloCiné (French)
- Jacques Rivette at AllMovie
- jacques-rivette.com- a website devoted to Rivette's film and journalism careers
- Biography on newwavefilm.com
- sensesofcinema.com Great Directors article
- Jonathan Rosenbaum: Jacques Rivette [chapter from FILM: THE FRONT LINE 1983]
- (French) Edition de « De l'abjection » (1961) par Jacques Rivette, sur le site d'analyse L'oBservatoire (simple appareil).