One of the greats of the French New Wave has passed, leaving behind a legacy of films that are noted for their stylistic boldness, narrative complexity and length.
Jacques Rivette was 87, and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. Many of his illustrious peers, including Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, have also died, leaving Jean-Luc Godard as one of the last survivors of the path-breaking cinematic movement from the 1960s.
A critic with the influential French film journal Cahiers du Cinema, Rivette made his debut with Paris Belongs to Us in 1961. After a four-year gap during which he edited Cahiers du Cinema, Rivette made the headline-grabbing The Nun, starring Anna Karina as Suzanne, who is forcibly placed in a convent and tries to leave with tragic consequences. The film was controversial enough to be banned in France until 1967.
In L’Amour Fou (1969), Rivette filmed the breakdown of a marriage in the 35mm and 16mm formats, using the framing device of a play being rehearsed within the movie, one that he would return to in his later works.
Rivette then began to make the first of many films that lasted several hours. Out 1 (1971), which follows the goings-on at two theatre companies that are led by former lovers, clocks 773 minutes and has rarely been seen as a consequence.
Céline and Julie Go Boating (192-minutes) from 1974 incorporates elements of fantasy and magic realism to recount the adventures of two women in Paris who are linked by a series of strange events.
The 237-minute La Belle Noiseuse, based on Honore de Balzac’s short story The Unknown Masterpiece, features Michel Piccoli as an artist who is inspired to paint once again after he meets the girlfriend (Emanuelle Beart) of a visiting artist. The movie was a financial success in France. Discerning audiences in New York City also boosted Rivette’s Out 1 to box-office glory when it was shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s arthouse theatre in 2015, where it earned more money in a day than the mainstream releases Brooklyn and Spotlight.
Rivette’s last movie was 2009’s Around a Small Mountain, starring Jane Birkin as a former circus employee and Sergio Castellitto as the man she meets during a trip.
An oft-quoted anecdote about Rivette is his defence of Paul Verhoeven’s universally panned Showgirls. Rivette, always the cinephile, defended the 2005 production about strippers as “one of the great American films of the last few years”, and a movie that “has great sincerity, and the script is very honest, guileless”.
In a 2009 interview, Rivette rewound to his first encounters with what came to be known as the Nouvelle Vague.