It’s a wonderful time to be a Jacques Rivette fan right now: even though the man himself is gone, his films have never been more accessible to North American audiences than they are currently. The legendary Out 1 has been unearthed and is now available on Blu-ray, in addition to streaming on Netflix (!); three mid-period films (Duelle, Noirot, Merry-Go-Round) either are or will be streaming on Mubi.com this month; and Rivette’s debut feature, Paris Belongs To Us (Paris Nous Appartient, 1961) has been inducted into The Criterion Collection and is streamable on Hulu. Curiously, Celine and Julie Go Boating—arguably Rivette’s best-known work—remains unavailable on North America at the moment, most likely due to mired copyright issues. But it’s almost easy to overlook the loss of Celine and Julie when there is so much else to discover (or re-discover).
I finally sat down with Paris Belongs To Us, a paranoid thriller that’s shaggy and enigmatic in a way that would become one of the hallmarks of Rivette’s work, set among a group of dilettantes, bohemians and theatre types into whose circle a naïve young literature student named Anne is brought for better or worse (though probably worse). Anne finds herself moved to investigate the mysterious death (suicide? murder?) of a Spanish composer named Juan who was known to nearly everyone in the film except herself, and who, like the figure of Pierre in Out 1, is talked about constantly even though he never appears onscreen. According to one theory—touted most insistently by an American ex-pat named Philip Kaufman—Juan was murdered by a secret society of neo-fascists. Or is this only Philip’s delusion? (He himself is in exile from the U.S. after having been blacklisted and occupies a bedroom papered with pictures of faces drawn in a mentally disturbed child’s scrawl.) All of this is set against a seemingly doomed effort to mount a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, and sports cameo appearances by such icons of the nouvelle vague as Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Demy. On the whole it feels like a dry run for the bravura stunt that would become Out 1, and as such it’s more of an interesting curiosity than a masterpiece in its own right. By the time it reaches its haunting conclusion, though, Rivette has succeeded in creating a sufficiently uneasy tone that is difficult to completely shake off or dismiss.