Tuesday, November 10, 2015


La nouvelle vague has captivated me since right around 1999, when I'd first arrived in Portland. Around that time I'd also happened upon Dogme 95, but whereas that movement proved to be a passing fancy, a shallow trend, its entries seemingly all but have elapsed any interest or value I can find in them, La nouvelle vague appears as inexhaustibly pertinent as an exercise in personal filmmaking style. Jean-Luc Godard is and always will be my most revered, but it's not possible for me to exclude Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette--both of whom I had to wait longer for and found less of their work to view.

Of all the time I'd spent watching Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, Jacques Rivette) I'd wanted to see more by its writer-director, Jacques Rivette, but had no luck. Finally after importing a British dvd of Paris nous appartient (1958, Rivette) I'd had something else to process. Surprisingly, Paris nous appartient was unlike Celine and Julie Go Boating in several ways; for the most part, it was darker. Shrouded in paranoia, conspiracies, intrigue, and shot in black and white, it was hard to believe it was by the same person.

By the way, I'd always been a filmographile. Wait what's the word for that? I mean like obsessed with filmographies of directors. And as I'm sure people who know me are sick of hearing, I began my pursuit of seeing all the movies of specific directors before the days of prevalent access to the internet. In researching the filmography of Jacques Rivette, one will find his fourth feature film listed as Out 1 (1971, Rivette) with a running time of thirteen hours. When I first thought about it, I did a double-take. As intriguing as it sounded I sadly concluded that I'd never actually have a chance to see it. Especially not in a theater. Especially not in one day. But, again, thanks to Austin, sometimes a chance comes along to see a movie I've waited for my whole life and never thought I'd get to see in a theater.

The day before I was to attend the theatrical screening of Out 1 I was scared. The longest movie I'd seen in a theater was Lawrence of Arabia, at nearly four hours. How was I going to sit through a thirteen hour movie? Would I get like bed sores? Would I get claustrophobic? Fall asleep? It began this past Saturday at 10:30AM and I had a seat in the middle, flanked by other audience members, but I saw that the front row was nearly empty and not too close to the screen so I moved there so I could sprawl out and slouch in my own space. For the first few hours I yawned a lot but then I was transported to that calmingly relaxed hypnotic trance into another world. Okay, okay, sadly it was a DCP, but other than that I was in complete bliss.

Out 1 contains several references to the number thirteen. It's strongly tied to Honoré de Balzac's three novels from La comédie humaine called "The Thirteen," as Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud) finds, along with the Lewis Carroll reference about the thirteen gathered to hunt the Snark while searching for clues to solve his conspiracy theories. And it seems to me, although difficult to prove, Colin and Frédérique (Juliet Berto) are the two central leads, along with the five members of the Seven Against Thebes theater group and the Prometheus theater group's six members, which makes that thirteen principal cast members to follow. Also, the film runs thirteen hours.

I so admire Rivette's style in Out 1. He takes us down a rabbit hole into the intricacies of social dynamics among these thirteen people who all embody a cool, early 70s, bohemian, youthful, free-spirited, creative, cultured, literary cluster of sexy intellectuals. And he shoots them often on the streets of Paris, filming found locations. Maybe I'm jaded because I've been working in film and television production for the past three years, but how refreshing to see Out 1 full of most of the things it's my job to prevent: boom or other crew or equipment's shadows or reflections, and random people (bogies or lookie-loos as we call them) looking at the scenes being filmed, for example. I've always wanted to make movies like this.

And then there's the austerity that comes from Rivette's choice to leave the film without a non-diegetic score. The opening shot is unforgettable: the Seven Against Thebes group is stretching and we hear a recording that is played of some tribal bongos. Those bongos open the subsequent seven of eight parts of the film to follow and they become akin to a theme. But while I'm on that opening shot, most of the first two hours is just two different theater groups rehearsing, and while trying, it sets the foundation for Rivette's diegesis.

So if half of the movie is the two theater groups, the other half is Colin and Frédérique. Both he and she live alone in small apartments that feel like prison cells to me. Both of them are introduced as cafe hustlers. They both eventually hunt the thirteen. And they both fall in love by the end of the film, albeit to different people. And they cross paths only for a second and never say more than one word to each other or actually meet.

These are some simple structural techniques I noticed. The movie is thirteen hours long, I'm not gonna go crazy here. Colin's scenes are fun and break the theater group's monotony. But Frédérique's scenes are magic because Juliet Berto has to be the sexiest most sensually ravishing actress to have come out of French 60s cinema. The way Rivette photographs her recalls Godard's work with Jean Seberg, Anna Karina, Bridget Bardot, and Anne Wiazemsky. And, Berto is fun too, just like she'd go on to carry Celine and Julie Go Boating--who's character in that film coincidentally went on to provide the inspiration for Madonna's character in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, Susan Seidelman). Frédérique spends the latter half of the movie in her own spy disguise with a boyish short hair wig, trousers, jacket, and collared shirt with cravat--damn that cravat puts me in stitches.

Thomas is a little older but damn he's cool in the stereotypical French way. He (and his theater group) smoke tons of cigarettes, he's always breaking down the literary relations to their rehearsals, always wearing mock turtle-neck sweaters, romancing seemingly every woman he meets, drinks wine, and enjoys eating in a lot of scenes, one of which he's seen sharing snails with Sarah. Oh, the French.

Like Paris nous appartient the air of paranoia prevails heavily. I forget what all goes on in that movie but I know the Betty Schneider character stumbles upon mention of a guitar recording by a character named Carlos, whom she never finds and is never shown in the film nor is his recording. That's key to Out 1's plot points. It's like never finding or showing Pierre. Same with the way Paris nous appartient features many scenes--and attracts the Betty Schneider character--of rehearsing a play that is never performed. I love that the journey is the payoff not the destination. I feel like Bruno Dumont makes his films similarly. Oh, the French.

But so yeah, the thirteen hours I spent sucked into the world of Out 1 was immersive and powerful, unlike any experience I can begin to think of comparing this to cinematically. Bulle Ogier as Pauline is also similarly photogenic in the way Juliet Berto is in this. Both of them go on to appear in Celine and Julie Go Boating and other of Rivette's 70s work. Man I wanna see Duelle (1976, Rivette) with Juliet Berto and Bulle Ogier. To bring up some of the film's playful humor and self-referencing, there's a scene with Colin hanging out with Pauline in her shop with some other friends. They're eating crackers and fruit jam. Pauline asks Colin if he's ever heard the story of "Charlotte and the Jam Pots." Colin replies that he has not. To which Pauline responds she'll tell him some other time because it's too long.

Needless to say, I'm proud to have discovered that there's a place for something like Out 1 and that it works. And I can't wait for the chance to see more of Rivette's early work.


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