The important French New Wave director Jacques Rivette passed away yesterday at the age of 87.
I felt a slight regret that I've never seen more of his films. Yet I remember very well the first. The very first Rivette film I saw would turn out to be his last, AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN. Caught this at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2009. It was a rather peculiar experience. Many of the film is set in a circus, where occasionally the line between reality and fiction is blurred, the theatricality of life is mirrored by the performances in the circus. I was a little confounded.
After that film I wanted to find out more about his previous films, and I was recommended two films that were considered his masterpieces. 3-hour CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING and the 12 1/2-hour long (!!) OUT 1 (Out 1, noli me tangere). I got hold of these films a few years ago, saw half of CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, but didn't start with the latter. Perhaps I was intimidated by the length then, even though that was the particular period of time when I indulged myself in some of the longer films in history, like Bela Tarr's SATANTANGO, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ and a few of Theo Angelopoulos' earlier works. Committing to these long films can be a rather unique experience, like locking yourself in a room to binge-read a novel. You find yourself following not just the plot and characters, but immersing yourself completely in the world that was constructed, its particularly rhythm, and replaying earlier moments of the film in your mind which felt like an eternity ago.
So no, I didn't see OUT 1, but its recent rerelease in US Cinemas, and the many articles writing about it, had given me renewed curiosity of the film. Merely two weeks ago I was reading through reviews of OUT 1. I was so curious to know how did he, like his French New Wave contemporaries, play with the form of cinema, the relationship between fiction and reality. There had been many great pieces about the mysterious, elusive OUT 1, this New York Times piece by Dennis Lim is worth a read. Here's an excerpt.
"Out 1" uses documentary techniques — uninflected observation, unscripted situations — not to capture reality but to generate fiction. For Mr. Rivette, narratives — or, more precisely, our hunger for them — can be dangerous. In his best-loved film, "Céline and Julie Go Boating" (1974), a giddy parable on the pleasures and perils of storytelling, the heroines are literally thrust into a haunted house of fiction.
Mr. Rivette's fondness for shadowy conspiracies and paranoid fantasies, which owes a debt to Balzac and the sinister daydreams of the silent-era serialist Louis Feuillade, dates to his first feature, "Paris Belongs to Us" (1960). With "Out 1" he found the perfect match of form and content, an outsize canvas for a narrative too vast to apprehend. In a 1973 interview Mr. Rivette described the film's creep from quasi-documentary to drama in ominous terms: the fiction "swallows everything up and finally auto-destructs."
Mr. Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard were the two major French filmmakers most visibly galvanized by the student riots of May 1968. While Mr. Godard grew overt in his militancy, Mr. Rivette set about on a subtler but no less anarchic course. Much of his 70's work stems from a radical impulse toward destruction and renewal.
The director Claire Denis, who worked with Mr. Rivette in the mid 70's and later made a documentary about him, spent an afternoon on the set of "Out 1" as a student. "Everything was political then," she said in a telephone interview. "Making the film was political. So was watching it." She has fond if somewhat dim memories of the legendary 1971 screening. "It was like an acid experience," she said. "Everyone was more or less stoned."
"Out 1" now seems a relic of a bohemian heyday, a time when you could spend your days rehearsing ancient Greek plays or making 12-hour films. But even in 1970 that hazy idyll was already fading. The film takes its shape, as Mr. Rosenbaum has noted, from "the successive building and shattering of utopian dreams." An epic meditation on the relationship between the individual and the collective, "Out 1" devotes its second half to fracture and dissolution. But it's not a depressing film, perhaps because its implicit pessimism is refuted by its very existence. Experiential in the extreme, "Out 1" cannot help transforming the solitary act of moviegoing into a communal one.
Now that he is gone, I'm bringing his films with me to a location scouting trip at Penang. It's probably going to be a fine pleasure to watch these films when I can.