Jacques Rivette Is Dead

January 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

The great Jacques Rivette died today.

He was one of the 1950s critics on Cahiers du Cinéma, who not only transformed serious film criticism but became the New Wave, a generation of directors influenced by Hitchcock and Hawks, Nicholas Ray, Fritz Lang and Rossellini– and they left their own indelible mark on the cinema to come. He was a Marxist (of anarchist persuasion, it seems to me) who made films about the mysteries of human life.

Rivette was the most philosophical of the New Wave directors and his films often made things complicated, even cryptic, but were always compelling. Maybe the best known here in Britain is the joyously strange, psychedelically pill-popping Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974). In more than one of his films there is a magician, and in several it is the magic of the theatre that he conjoins with that of cinema: the Pirandellian Va Savoir (2001), a quick, vivid comedy, or the dreamy Paris Belongs to Us (1960), his first full-length feature, where Cold War conspiracy lurks and actors rehearse Pericles.

For me, it’s another of his early films that stands out. This is The Nun, based on Diderot’s novel of that title. Anna Karina has the role of the young woman condemned by her family to life in a convent, and her struggle to be free has a resonance that goes far beyond its 18th-century setting. Of course Diderot was a banned writer; it’s more extraordinary that Rivette’s film should have found itself banned in France in 1966.

Now only two of the New Wave group survive: Jean-Luc Godard and Agnès Varda, the one woman, so often overlooked. She and Rivette were born in the same year, 1928, and were friends and political allies. I keep seeing affinities between their films, not just in their similarities but also their differences. Rivette is a visual poet of Paris; Paris Belongs to Us shows us an atmospheric labyrinth of hills and steps, where Varda takes an almost documentary view of Paris in Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), but with both what we see on screen forms a new idea of the world rooted in the city.

Rivette remains one of the very greatest directors. Even though he had been ill for a while, it’s sad to know for sure that there will be no more films directed by Jacques Rivette. I have some still to see, and some of these are very long, which is a consolation.

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