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No Love for Jacques Rivette

Jacques Rivette is my favorite director, and Criterion hates him.

In reality, it’s unclear how Criterion truly feels about Rivette. Despite being a renowned filmmaker at 85, he is notably absent from the Criterion Collection, which is close to reaching 1,000 titles.

The selection of movies for release is influenced by rights and consumer demand, even for a label known for promoting quality and shaping the canon.

While Criterion has gradually addressed notable omissions over the years, such as Satyajit Ray and Claude Chabrol, Rivette’s absence has become a source of jest among cinephiles.

The lack of representation for Rivette in Criterion has sparked ongoing discussions and jokes in cinephile communities and even on Criterion’s social media platforms.

This situation aligns with Rivette’s outsider persona as he struggled for commercial success in the U.S. His films often explore themes of secrecy and paranoia.

Unfortunately, due to regional restrictions, American audiences are limited to only a few of Rivette’s films.

No Love for Jacques Rivette

Regarding my personal experience, I recently acquired what might be my most treasured disc release of the past year: the U.K. Blu-ray of Le Pont du Nord (1981) by Masters of Cinema.

This marks the film’s first English-language home video release and Rivette’s debut in high-definition.

Le Pont du Nord is one of Rivette’s most accomplished works and is an excellent introduction to the director for those who may find his work intimidating.

Like many of Rivette’s films, it intertwines several recurring themes such as female relationships, games, Paris, and the underlying presence of vast, barely visible conspiracies that resonate in a post-September 11 context.

The film follows two heroines, portrayed by real-life mother and daughter Bulle and Pascale Ogier, who meet near the Lion de Delfort and spend a few days together.

Both are outsiders, forced onto the streets by their circumstances, and they gradually confide in each other.

Marie, just released from prison, feels too confined to be indoors, while Baptiste, a street punk, sees herself as a modern-day defender of the city against unseen foes and appoints herself as Marie’s protector.

While Baptiste’s character remains enigmatic until the end, Rivette reveals Marie’s backstory early in the film.

She is a former revolutionary entangled with a former lover, Julien, and a mysterious man in black who may be a cop or a secret agent.

A story involving a stolen dossier and map explicitly connects the film to events during the Giscard government.

The map catalyzes Marie and Baptiste’s whimsical journey across Paris, as Baptiste suggests interpreting its uncertain meaning by “playing” it as a chutes-and-ladders game.

No Love for Jacques Rivette
Jacques Rivette

Also, see Budd Boetticher: A Maverick Voice from the Past

Using the term “quixotic” is deliberate; Rivette drew inspiration for his heroines from Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Like Cervantes’s novel, Le Pont du Nord can be interpreted as either a tragedy or, if not quite a comedy, a captivating, fantastical adventure.

Despite the film being grounded in grim external reality, the magical realist elements and quick, casual gags provide the most enthralling moments in Le Pont du Nord, reminiscent of early Truffaut and Godard.

The film’s tone allows for moments like Marie and Baptiste spending the night contently inside a theater after noticing a movie marquee for Les Grands Espaces (The Great Outdoors).

There’s also the memorable scene where Baptiste “kills” her faulty motorbike like a cowboy putting down his wounded horse, subtly aligning Le Pont du Nord with the conventions of a Western.

Rivette carefully provides a realistic explanation for Baptiste’s condition, but the film doesn’t insist on dispelling all its mysteries and undermining the enjoyment of its games.

Le Pont du Nord features two climactic moments – one tragic, the other an absurd and endearing showdown between Baptiste and a modernist metal dragon – and concludes with an enigmatic epilogue. This impromptu karate lesson subverts any strictly literal interpretation of the preceding events.

This distinctive ending reappears in a better-known film, Beau Travail, directed by Claire Denis, who Rivette informally influenced during the seventies.

I first viewed Le Pont du Nord on December 2, 2006, as part of a significant theatrical revival of Rivette’s films in the U.S.

On the same day, I saw Love on the Ground (L’amour par terre, 1984) in a shortened, two-hour version, considered inferior to Rivette’s original 176-minute cut.

Finding the extended version of Love on the Ground on the bare-bones 2008 DVD from the U.K. label Bluebell Films was a delightful surprise.

No Love for Jacques Rivette
Jacques Rivette

If Le Pont du Nord can serve as an introduction to Rivette’s work, Love on the Ground is a more advanced exploration.

Like Le Pont du Nord, it revolves around a female duo: two actresses, not related by blood but connected by a shared sense of foreignness, ingeniously portrayed by two prominent English-speaking actresses in Europe, Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin.

Love on the Ground also delves into the theme of theater, a significant motif in Rivette’s work that is absent in the literal sense from Le Pont du Nord.

Birkin and Chaplin initially appear in an avant-garde performance of a play in an actual apartment, where the audience follows the actors from room to room.

When the playwright (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) becomes intrigued by the actresses, he invites them to rehearse a new, unfinished play in his country home.

As the play progresses, romantic relationships develop between the women, the playwright, and his friend Paul (André Dussolier). This magician contributes to the film’s relatively minor overt fantasy element.

The intriguing, albeit perplexing, outcome of the “theater at home” concept, where domestic and performance spaces overlap entirely, is that it often becomes challenging to differentiate between a rehearsal or “real” life at the beginning of each scene or the end of any line.

Unfortunately, as I watched the DVD, I couldn’t remember what sections of the more extended cut were missing from the print I saw seven years ago.

The material of Love on the Ground feels a bit thin to fill three hours. However, as Rivette devotee Jonathan Rosenbaum has pointed out, the short version perversely retains most of the play-within-a-movie material and excises the richer relationship subplots.

The extended length struck me as lending a better sense of balance and pace to the disorienting, circular story, and it also led me to think of Love on the Ground as something of a companion piece to Rivette’s best-known film, Céline and Julie Go Boating (Céline and Julie vont en bateau, 1974).

Celine and Julie have a similar duration and position their paired heroines within a secluded mansion where the division between reality and fantasy is blurred.

No Love for Jacques Rivette
Jacques Rivette

Rivette is renowned for the duration of his films. Surprisingly, both Céline and Julie and Love on the Ground are shorter.

Out 1, initially intended for French television but ultimately rejected, spans thirteen hours.

The alternate “short” version of Out 1, Noli me tangere (1971), runs for four hours, while L’amour fou (1969), another early masterpiece, has a duration of four and a half hours.

The length issue contributes to the widespread perception of Rivette as too challenging or enigmatic to thrive in the mainstream spotlight, such as that offered by a series of Criterion Blu-rays.

As early as 1983, Rosenbaum described the experience of encountering solitary Rivette enthusiasts worldwide – precisely the kind of clandestine society that one might naturally encounter in a Rivette film.

No Love for Jacques Rivette
Jacques Rivette

I always debate this point whenever it arises. I firmly believe that nothing created by Rivette is any more challenging than, for example, any of the Godard films distributed in the U.S. over the past thirty years.

How could anyone resist the allure of Duelle and Noroît (both 1976), Rivette’s vivid and daring pair of films from the late seventies?

Noroît features Bernadette Lafont and Geraldine Chaplin as pirates, for goodness’ sake.

Pirates! However, I understand that accessibility is subjective. If you resonate with a filmmaker’s vision, you can seamlessly immerse yourself in their world and find it perplexing when others struggle to do so.

Rivette’s sardonic paranoia, much like Antonioni’s solemn alienation, which also remains somewhat challenging even for devoted movie enthusiasts, resonates with how I perceive the world. I thoroughly relish every moment.

As I cautiously temper my enthusiasm for Love on the Ground, Rosenbaum shares the potential pitfalls of recommending a less prominent work in Rivette’s notably secluded body of work, fearing it might deter prospective admirers.

Unfortunately, this is almost inevitable in Rivette’s case, where the widespread availability of his films often seems inversely proportional to their quality.

In the U.S., the rights to most of his films have fallen into the hands of budget-focused distributors such as Koch Lorber, Facets, and particularly the financially strained New Yorker, which spent a decade promising a Céline and Julie Go Boating DVD without delivering.

In contrast, British audiences have slightly better options, with commendable BFI editions of Céline and Julie and Rivette’s remarkable debut, Paris Belongs to Us (Paris nous appartient, 1960). However, I’m hesitant to recommend them as these two seem more likely candidates for a Blu-ray upgrade than any of Rivette’s other films.

However, Le Pont du Nord is essential for any cinephile with a multi-region capable setup (unfortunately, it is one of Masters of Cinema’s few Region B-locked releases) and likely represents the most comprehensive edition of the film we’ll ever have.

Yet, this edition isn’t complete: the extensive liner notes commence with an apology for MOC’s inability to license Paris s’en va (1981), a short film featuring the same actors that served as a precursor to Le Pont du Nord. The curse of Rivette endures.

Also, see Movie-Watching Memories: The Quo Vadis

Ashish Maharjan
Ashish Maharjan
Ashish, a seasoned editor and author for World Cinema Paradise, intricately weaves creativity with precision in his writing, establishing himself as a prolific content creator. Renowned for clarity and captivating storytelling, Ashish has cultivated a devoted readership, driven by his unwavering passion for words and commitment to excellence.

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