Rivette Week

Ian Haydn Smith
8/08/17
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Curating a film festival retrospective can be a tricky thing. A filmmaker with a body of work that encompasses a handful of films is an easy prospect for curator and audience alike. Fred Kelemen, in this year's programme, for instance. But what of a filmmaker whose career spanned 60 years? In the case of Jacques Rivette, his output is thankfully better known for its quality than for quantity.

Rivette may have made his first short when he was 21 - 1949's Aux quatre coins - but unlike his colleagues at Cahiers du cinema who went on to become key figures of the Nouvelle Vague - Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer - Rivette was never quite so prolific. After his impressive feature debut Paris Belongs to Us (1961) and when Éric Rohmerstepped down as editor of Cahiers, Rivette took over and throughout the 1960s used it as a major political force in French culture. It was really from the 1970s that his filmmaking career gained ground. The richness of Rivette's film work is elucidated by the retrospective's curator Ariel Schweitzer elsewhere, so I won't trawl through the many cinematic pleasures it has to offer. Instead, I will highlight two television programmes that are rarely screened and which are screening in this festival. They are a must for anyone interested in film.

Claire Denis has long been a fan of Rivette. A cinephile whose own history has found her working with some of the great directors of the last few decades - Wenders, Jarmusch and Rivette himself, whom she assisted - her ability to articulate on the mechanics and thematics of cinema make her a fascinating guide through it. In 1990, as part of the acclaimed TV series Directors of Our Time, she directed a discussion between Rivette and critic Serge Daney. As befitting a filmmaker whose formal brilliance is masked by a deceptively casual style, the two men mostly discuss cinema, art and life as they stroll through the streets of Paris. The result is richly rewarding, with Rivette passionate in discussing the nature - both practical and philosophical - of his work. He is also a witty commentator on how French cinema has developed. As an introduction to Rivette's cinema, it is without equal.

A behemoth dominates the Rivette retrospective. Outside of the features and selection of shorts, there is Out 1 (1971). A 13-hour mini-series, comprised of eight feature-length episodes, it draws on a combination of sources, most notably Balzac's novel 'The Thirteen'. It was shown once as a single film in 1971, with over 300 people watching all 760-minutes at Maison de la Culture in Le Havre. A 260-minute version - Out 1: Spectre - was released in 1974. For two decades the full version was regarded as the holy grail of European cinema, so rare was the opportunity to see it. Having now been restored, you can see the entire film at this festival - albeit at a more relaxing pace over the course of this week. The film is also available on DVD/Blu-ray, but take this chance to see it on the big screen. It's where this labyrinthine, deeply rewarding work deserves to be seen.


Ian Haydn Smith

Ian Haydn Smith is a British writer and editor. Formerly the editor of the International Film Guide, he is the co-author of New British Cinema and author of the forthcoming The Story of Photography. He has attended New Horizons since 2008.


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