(France 1981 131m) not on DVD
Day belongs to strength, the night to power
p Margaret Ménégoz d Jacques Rivette w Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman, Jerome Prieur, Bulle Ogier, Pascale Ogier ph William Lubtchansky ed Nicole Lubtchansky m Astor Piazzola
Bulle Ogier (Marie), Pascale Ogier (Baptiste), Jean-François Stevenin (Max), Pierre Clémenti (Julien), Mathieu Schiffman, Antoine Gurevitch, Benjamin Baltimore,
There have been a few billets doux to Paris on film over the years. Here’s another, except that billet doux doesn’t quite seem to fit right. What we have here is a Rubik Cube to Paris, a Gordian Knot, Rivette’s Riddle of the Sphinx. It’s a puzzle and it is life, it’s real and it most definitely isn’t. It’s everything Time Out’s Paul Taylor said it was when he observed that it’s a “movie that pushes the conspiratorial playfulness of Rivette’s Céline et Julie in directions both maddening and magical.”
Essentially it centres around Marie, a fortyish woman released from prison after several years inside for her involvement in an extremist underground group. It’s unclear exactly what her part was, and who she was protecting, but her boyfriend Julien is involved and she sets out to meet him on the day of her release. On the way to meet him she bumps into the same young woman, Baptiste, three times, and Baptiste then continues to pop up – stalk would be a better word – around Marie until she attaches herself to Marie like a limpet. Both are then involved in an intrigue, in which various people are after the contents of Julien’s briefcase, including a map which showcases Paris divided up into areas like the spiral of a snail’s shell that resemble a board game Marie played when a child.
This is certainly not a film for Rivette virgins. Indeed, there’s always been an argument that if any career demands strict chronological viewing, it’s Rivette’s. There’s somehow a feeling of all Rivette’s plots – obviously not including his historical pieces – forming part of a massive jigsaw of the unattainable, one might even call it Rivette’s star-gate. Through the likes of Céline et Julie, Duelle, Noroit and now to Le Pont du Nord, there’s a case for arguing that each of the characters operates inside each other’s world. Perhaps the sweets in Céline allow the principals to journey from one film to another. Bulle Ogier is always there, a constant, the omnipresent eternal, the witch of Duelle, the mistress of the fantasy world in Céline, the disintegrating wife in L’Amour Fou. And here she’s paired with her own daughter, Pascale, with whom she collaborated on the scenario. Looking at Pascale now, with the tragic benefit of hindsight – she died of a heart ailment a few years later a day before her 26th birthday – there’s a real sense of the cathartic about both lead performances. Bulle Ogier belongs in Rivette’s world – it’s why she fit so smoothly into Buñuel’s in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie – and Pascale likewise fits right in as a character one might, quite easily, call a complete and utter lunatic. Baptiste is like a stick you throw away not realising it’s a boomerang. She has an obsession with always being watched, so she knifes posters to cut out any eyes looking at her, she resorts to tae-kwon-do when threatened (and is about as threatening as Hong Kong Phooey) and only eats when absolutely starving.
The idea of life as a giant board game is an original one, at least when done in such a fashion. It’s like a film based on the musings of kids playing increasingly far-fetched games. A slide in an adventure playground becomes a dragon acting as Fisher King to the eponymous bridge. It toys with the idea of fate – one meeting is an accident, two is chance, three is destiny – again as a child might do. It’s The Matrix as imagined by intellectuals acting as children. And for a film that sees Paris as a gigantic spider’s web, it’s suitably disorientating, and at times you begin to doubt your sanity. Yet what is Rivette doing but peeling back the fabric of reality. Many will hate him for that, and find it a pretentious, indecipherable work, but why must everything be understood? Who needs reality? As Baptiste says, “real life, that’s a reign of terror.”