“Noroît”: une tragédie comique

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about Rivette and fantasy, and about his grounding of fantasy elements in a loose, improvisatory style very much representative of the New Wave spirit.  Noroît, Rivette’s companion piece to Duelle (both 1976), reflects this tension through its various modes of theatricality. 

The film presents itself as an adaptation of the Jacobean stage play The Revenger’s Tragedy and is divided into five acts of various numbers of scenes, in keeping with the conventions of early modern drama.  Characters frequently lapse into dialogue and soliloquys lifted from the English text, and at one point perform an entire scene from the play for the other characters in the film, a mise-en-abyme effect similar to Hamlet’s play-within-the-play.  At the same time, Rivette’s penchant for improvisation and eclecticism keeps coming through.  This is a female-driven Revenger’s Tragedy in which the villainous Duke and his family have been transformed into a band of pirates occupying a castle off the coast of Brittany, with a steel-eyed Geraldine Chaplin in the Vindice role, out to avenge the deal of her brother/lover Shane.  Action scenes unfold with a clumsy naturalism, as characters fight and dance their way through the real environments of the film’s “sets.”  Meanwhile, in the background, a chamber orchestra of Renaissance musicians provides a score recorded using direct sound—a clever touch, and one in keeping with the New Wave ethos (just as Duelle employs a “live” piano score). 

In Noroît Rivette and company experiment gleefully with the dividing lines between cinema and theatre, reality and imagination, tragedy and comedy.  I keep thinking about the final shot of the film, in which Morag (Chaplin) and her nemesis Giulia (Rivette regular Bernadette Lafont) kill each other and then both collapse to the ground with laughter as they die.  The tonality of that ending is in keeping with Rivette’s childlike tendency to play even tragedy with his tongue in his cheek.

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