The Jacques Rivette Collection

| May 26, 2017

Among the major directors of the French New Wave, Jacques Rivette’s films have largely been difficult to come by on home video in the States. Arguably his best-known film Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) has still never seen a Stateside DVD release. Fortunately for cinephiles, some of Rivette’s films have seen recent Blu-ray releases including Criterion’s Paris Belongs to Us, Kino Lorber’s Le Pont du Nord, and Carlotta Films’s stunning boxed set of Out 1. Arrow Films has now given three of Rivette’s films a boxed set of their own, previously released in the UK as a set that also included Out 1. The US version of the set includes the two films Rivette directed following Celine and Julie Go Boating, Duelle and Noroît (both 1976), and 1981’s Merry-Go-Round.

Following Celine and Julie Go Boating Rivette planned a cycle of four films based on a shared mythology, each in a different genre. In Duelle, Lucie (Hermine Karagheuz) and her brother Pierrot (Jean Babilée) become unwittingly involved in a struggle between two supernatural forces. Leni (Juliet Berto) is searching for a man she claims to be her brother and hires Lucie as an amateur detective to track him down. Pierrot is seduced by Viva (Bulle Ogier), who enlists his assistance in tracking down a precious jewel called the Fairy Godmother. Duelle has hints of film noir, but it is shot through with Rivette’s fascination with performance and artifice. The score of the film is performed by musicians who actually appear in the scenes as they play out, which makes sense in the scenes that take place at the dance club Rumba and less so when the same pianist is playing in Viva’s apartment and anywhere else the film calls for him to be at any given moment. It’s fascinating and surreal with flashes of playful absurdist humor. In other words, it feels like a natural follow-up to Celine and Julie.

Noroît was adapted from the 17th century drama The Revenger’s Tragedy. Morag (Geraldine Chaplin) swears vengeance against the pirate captain Giulia (Bernadette Lafont) for the death of her brother. Her accomplice Erika (Kika Markham) convinces Giulia to hire Morag as a bodyguard, and the two women put into motion their plan to kill all of Giulia’s crew. Noroît takes place entirely on a small island, mostly in an ancient castle where Giulia and her band of pirates have taken up residence. Despite retaining the structure of the play on which it is based, Noroît is not presented as a period piece–the characters wear modern clothes and there are machine guns in the castle. As in Duelle, the score is performed by a band who is present in the scenes where they play the soundtrack as the scenes play out. As one might expect, Noroît is considerably darker in tone than Duelle, but it still displays Rivette’s trademark playfulness. It also climaxes in a lengthy, hallucinatory outdoor masked ball that pushes its dream logic to the fore.

Shortly after beginning production on the third film in the cycle, Rivette suffered a “nervous collapse” and scrapped plans for the remaining films. When he returned to filmmaking, his next project was considerably different in tone and content. In Merry-Go-Round, Ben (Joe Dallesandro) and Léo (Maria Schneider) are summoned for help by Elisabeth (Danièle Gégauff)–Léo’s sister and Ben’s lover, who has been missing for some time. After following clues left for them Ben and Léo finally track Elisabeth down at her childhood home, but she is almost immediately kidnapped after explaining that her and Léo’s father may still be alive despite his supposed death in a plane crash. Narratively Merry-Go-Round hews much closer to the film noir template than Duelle, and Dallesandro is perfect in the role of the easily manipulated sap. Despite this, its running time of 160 minutes is mostly a chore. The score is once again played by musicians we see on-screen, but this time they’re in a room somewhere completely separated from the rest of the film’s action. Even more disappointing is the fact that the numerous protracted sequences of Dallesandro fleeing unseen pursuers turn out to be opaque reflections of characters’ feelings at best and lengthy non sequiturs at worst. It’s a very frustrating watch, especially since at his best Rivette is a master of making time seem to pass extremely quickly.

Arrow Films has given all three films new 2K restorations for this release, and they look fantastic. Each film has its original mono soundtrack–uncompressed on the Blu-rays–and optional newly-translated English subtitles. It is relatively light on special features, although what is here is all well worth a look. “Remembering Duelle” is an 11-minute featurette with Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz looking back on the making of that film, there is a new 22-minute interview with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum discussing the films (his revelation that nobody seemed to get along with anybody on the set of Merry-Go-Round is as instructive as it is unsurprising), and the set also includes a lengthy archival interview with Rivette about these films. As always Arrow has given the set a beautiful package with reversible sleeves and newly-commissioned art (this time by Ignatius Fitzpatrick), and the set includes a book with writing on the films by Mary M. Wiles, Brad Stevens and Nick Pinkerton. Also included in the book is a reprint of four on-set reports from Duelle and Noroît. While Merry-Go-Round is something of a disappointment–although with more reflection and repeated viewings, that may change–any new release of Rivette’s work is cause for celebration and The Jacques Rivette Collection is essential viewing for any serious cinephile.

Arrow Films released The Jacques Rivette Collection on 23 May 2017.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium:
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