|Dominique Labourier in Jacques Rivette's hall of mirrors Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974).|
I’m looking forward to spending this weekend at the Harvard Film Archive’s two-day screening of Jacques Rivette’s epic Out 1, which Jonathan Rosenbaum has called “the definitive film about ’60s counterculture.” Now that news of Rivette’s death has broken this morning, that screening is shaping up to be about something more than just Out 1; I suspect that it will feel like a celebration of Rivette’s entire career and an elegy for the kind of cinema that he represented—richly imaginative, huge in its ambition and scope, endlessly experimental.
Rivette is often described as a member of the French New Wave, and while that’s not untrue it also doesn’t say much about what made his films unique from those of Truffaut and Godard and Demy. From his debut feature, Paris Nous Appartient (1959)—which, incidentally (and improbably), Antoine Doinel goes to see with his parents in The 400 Blows—Rivette showed an exuberant willingness to embrace cinema as a hybrid art, one that draws upon and recombines every other form of artistic media. (As with many of his later films, Paris Nous Appartient’s characters are actors.) Perhaps more so than any of his contemporaries, Rivette remained constantly interested in recognizing cinema as a medium where literature, painting, and theatre could be integrated, recombined, played with. In 2011 I wrote about La Belle Noiseuse (1991) as a film in which the act of watching a visual artist work in real time becomes mesmerizing. (Time and duration were two of Rivette’s favorite playthings, to which the daunting running times of his films—192 minutes, 250 minutes, 760 minutes—attest.) Celine and Julie Go Boating (1975), my personal favorite of his films, is a mind-bending and whimsical adventure story that brings together the worlds of Lewis Carroll, Henry James, and stage magic. Rivette’s films are unapologetically talky, stagy, shaggy, loony. And yet in spite of his fervent engagement with other artistic media Rivette could never be accused of being an “uncinematic” filmmaker. In his play with other texts, other media, he changed what cinema could do and be.