For Jacques Rivette

Quel est le but du cinéma? Que le monde réel, tel qu’offert sur l’écran, soit aussi une idée du monde. Il faut voir le monde comme une idée, il faut le penser comme concret.

Jacques Rivette

We are all rehearsing parts of which we are as yet unaware (our roles). We slip into characters which we do not master (our attitudes and postures). We serve a conspiracy of which we are completely oblivious (our masks).

Rivette’s project — a cinema that opposes its theatricality to that of theater, its reality to that of the world, which has become unreal — rescues cinema from the theater and the conspiracies threatening to destroy it.

Gilles Deleuze

The film maker, essayist, and above all, poet, Jacques Rivette, died on the 29th of January 2016.  With Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol, Rivette was one of the principal figures of the french New Wave.  As an apologist of modern cinema, of a cinema uniquely cinematographic, liberated from its dependence on older artistic forms (but not opposed to appropriations from older forms, most notably theatre), his was a radical vision.  His films distabilised identification with characters, hero-subjects, narratives, geographies and times.  Like Brecht, his ambition was an epic cinema, in which the public would be confronted with its own freedom in poetic creation.  We modestly celebrate this art …

KAPO, Italian film by GILLO PONTECORVO. Script: Franco Solinas and Gillo Pontecorvo. Cinematography: Alexander Sekolovic. Music: Carlo Rustichelli. Cast: Didi Perego, Gianni Garko, Susan Strasberg, Laurent Terzieff, Emmanuelle Riva. Production companies: Vides, Zebro, Francinex, 1960. Distribution: Cinédis.

The least that one can say is that it’s difficult, when one takes on a film on such a subject (the concentration camps), not to ask oneself certain preliminary questions; yet everything happens as though, due to incoherence, inanity, or cowardice, Pontecorvo resolutely neglected to ask them.

For example, that of realism: for so many reasons, all quite easy to understand, total realism — or what serves as realism in cinema — is impossible here; every effort in this direction is necessarily unachieved (that is immoral), every attempt at reenactment or pathetic and grotesque make-up, every traditional approach to “spectacle” partakes in voyeurism and pornography. The director is bound to make it tasteless, so that that which he dares present as “reality” is physically tolerable for the viewer, who can’t help but conclude, maybe unconsciously, that, of course, it was troublesome (those Germans, what savages!), but ultimately not intolerable, and that if one were just wise enough, with a bit of cunning or patience, one ought to have been able to get away with it. At the same time everyone unknowingly becomes accustomed to the horror, which little by little is accepted by morality, and will quickly become part of the mental landscape of modern man; who, the next time, will be able to be surprised or irritated at that which will in effect have ceased to be shocking?

It’s here that one understands that the force of Night and Fog came less from records than from montage, from the art with which the brute, real facts (alas!) were offered to our gaze, in a restless movement that is precisely that of a lucid consciousness, somewhat impersonal, that is unable to accept or understand or admit this phenomenon. One could see more monstrous records elsewhere than those retained by Resnais; but what isn’t man able to accustom himself to? Yet you cannot accustom yourself to Night and Fog; the point is that the filmmaker judges that which he shows, and is judged by the way in which he shows it.

Another thing: a phrase of Moullet’s has been constantly cited, left and right, and usually foolishly enough:morality is a matter of tracking shot (or the Godard’s version: tracking shots are a matter of morality); one has wanted to see in it the height of formalism, so that one could criticize its “terrorist” excess (to reclaim Paulhanien terminology). (1) Look, however, in Kapo, at the shot where Riva kills herself by throwing herself on an electric barbed-wire fence; the man who decides, at that moment, to have a dolly in to tilt up at the body, while taking care to precisely note the hand raised in the angle of its final framing — this man deserves nothing but the most profound contempt. For several months, people have been breaking our balls over false problems of form and content, of realism and fantasy, of script and mise en scène, of the free actor or the regulated actor, and other dichotomies; let us say that it is possible that all subjects are born free and equal by law; that which counts is tone, or emphasis, nuance, as one will call it — that is to say, the point of view of a man, the auteur, badly needed, and the attitude that this man takes in relation to that which he films, and therefore in relation to the world and to everything: that which can be expressed by a choice in situations, in the construction of the storyline, in the dialogue, in the play of actors, or in the pure and simple technique, “indifferently but as much”. (2) There are things that should not be addressed except in the throes of fear and trembling; death is one of them, without a doubt; and how, at the moment of filming something so mysterious, could one not feel like an imposter? It would be better in any case to ask oneself the question, and to include the interrogation, in some way, in what is being filmed; but doubt is surely that which Pontecorvo and his ilk lack most.

To make a film is to show certain things, that is at the same time, and by the same mechanism, to show them with a certain bias; these two acts being thoroughly bound together. Just as one can’t have absolute mise en scène, for there is no mise en scène in the absolute, cinema will never be a language: the relationship between sign and signifier has no recourse here, and only accomplishes the similarly sad heresies of the little Zazie. Every approach to the cinematographic act that proceeds by substituting addition in the place of synthesis, analysis in the place of unity, immediately sends us back to a rhetoric of images that has nothing more to do with the cinematographic act than industrial drawing has to do with painting; why does this rhetoric remain so dear to those who call themselves “critics of the left”? — maybe, after all, they are primarily hardcore pedagogues; but if we have always detested, for example, Pudovkin, de Sica, Wyler, Lizzani, and the ancient combatants of IDHEC (3), it’s because the logical culmination of this formalism calls itself Pontecorvo. Whatever the daily journalists think, the history of cinema isn’t revolutionary every day. For a mechanic like Losey, the New York avant-garde doesn’t disturb him any more than the waves on shore disturb the peace of the depths. (4) Why? It’s because some people don’t ask themselves anything but formal questions, while others resolve them entirely in advance and will ask none afterwards. But what do those who actually make history say instead — those whom one also calls “men of art”? Resnais will avow that, if such a film of the week gets the audience interested in him, nevertheless he has the feeling of being nothing but an amateur before Antonioni; Truffaut would say the same, no doubt, about Renoir, Godard about Rossellini, Demy about Visconti; and as Cézanne, despite all the journalists and reviewers, was slowly imposed by the painters, so the filmmakers (les cinéastes) will impose into history Murnau or Mizoguchi…

Jacques RIVETTE.

NOTES

(1) Jean Paulhan (1884 – 1968), resistance leader and man of letters.

(2) From Stéphane Mallarmé’s “One Toss of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance,” the full phrasing reads, “IT WOULD BE/WORSE/no/more nor less/indifferently but as much chance.” (An alternate, freer translation could be “just as well, but only as much” – Ed.)

(3) L’Institut des hautes études cinématographiques — a French film school, restructured in 1985 and now known as La Femis.

(4) Rivette can be seen, sitting against a wall listening to Shirley Clarke talk in a New York City loft, in the Cinéastes de notre temps program on Clarke, “Rome brûle: Portrait de Shirley Clarke,” co-directed by André S Labarthe and Noël Burch. (DS)

On Abjection
Jacques Rivette
translated by David Phelps with the assistance of Jeremi Szaniawski

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Do you believe that the cinema is useful? Or that a revolutionary cinema can exist?
I think revolutionary cinema can only be a ‘differential’ cinema, a cinema which questions all the rest of cinema. But in France, in any case, in relation to a possible revolution, I don’t believe in a revolutionary cinema of the first degree, which is satisfied with taking the revolution as its subject. A film like Terra em transe which does take the revolution as its subject is also really a revolutionary film; it’s always stupid to make assumptions, but I don’t think that could exist in France now. Films that content themselves with taking the revolution as a subject actually subordinate themselves to bourgeois ideas of content, message, expression. While the only way to make revolutionary cinema in France is to make sure that it escapes all the bourgeois aesthetic cliches: like the idea that there is an auteur of the film, expressing himself. The only thing we can do in France at the moment is to try to deny that a film is a personal creation. I think Playtime is a revolutionary film, in spite of Tati: the film completely overshadowed the creator. In films, what is important is the point where the film no longer has an auteur, where it has no more actors, no more story even, no more subject, nothing but the film itself speaking and saying something that can’t be translated: the point where it becomes the discourse of someone or something else, which cannot be said, precisely because it is beyond expression. And I think you can only get there by trying to be as passive as possible at all the various stages, never intervening on one’s own behalf but rather on behalf of this something else which is nameless.

Do you believe that a cinema which takes directly political elements for its theme has the power to mobilize people?
Less and less. I believe more and more that the role of the cinema is to destroy myths, to demobilize, to be pessimistic. Its role is to take people out of their cocoons and to plunge them into horror.

One can do that very well using the revolution as a theme.
Yes, but on the condition that the revolution is just a theme like any other. The only interesting film on the May ‘events’ (obviously, I haven’t seen them all) is one about the return to the Wonder factories, filmed by students at IDHEC — because it is a terrifying and painful film. It’s the only film that was really revolutionary. Maybe because it’s a moment when reality is transforming itself at such a rate that it starts to condense a whole political situation into ten minutes of wild dramatic intensity. It’s a fascinating film, but one couldn’t say that it mobilizes people at all, or if it does, it’s by provoking a reflex reaction of horror and rejection. Really, I think that the only role of the cinema is to upset people, to contradict structures which pre-shadow those ideas: it must ensure that the cinema is no longer comfortable. More and more, I tend to divide films into two sorts: those that are comfortable and those that aren’t. The former are all vile and the others positive to a greater or lesser degree. Some films I’ve seen, on Films or Saint-Nazaire, are pitifully comfortable; not only do they change nothing, but they also make the audience feel pleased with themselves. It’s like Humanite demonstrations.

Obviously, it’s difficult to believe in political films which think that by showing ‘reality’ it will denounce itself.
I think that what counts isn’t whether it is fiction or non-fiction, it’s the attitude that the person takes at the moment when he is filming; for example, whether or not he accepts direct sound. In any case, the fiction is actually direct sound, because there is still the point when you are filming. And with direct sound, ninety times out of a hundred, since people know they are being filmed, they probably start to base their reactions on that fact, and so it becomes almost super-fiction. All the more so because the director then has complete freedom to use the material that’s been filmed: to tighten up, to keep the long bits, to choose, not to choose, with the sound faked or not. And that is the real political moment.

Do you think the film-maker takes a moral position with regard to what he is filming?
Without any doubt, that’s all there is. First, with regard to the people he is filming, and then again with regard to the audience, in the way he chooses to communicate to them what he has filmed. But all films are political. In any case, I maintain that L’Amour fou is a deeply political film. It is political because the attitude we all had during the filming and then during the editing corresponds to moral choices, to ideas on human relationships, and therefore to political choices.

Which are communicated to the audience?
I hope so. The will to make a scene last in one way and not in another I find that a political choice.

So it’s a very general idea of politics. . .
But politics is extremely general. It’s what corresponds to the widest-ranging point of view one can have regarding existence. La Marseillaise is a film that is directly political, but so very different from a film like Toni, which is indirectly political, and even from Boudu, which doesn’t seem to be political at all. While actually Boudu is a completely political film: it is a great film of the left. Almost all Renoir’s films are more or less directly political, even those that are the least explicitly political, like Madame Bovary and Le Teslament du Docteur Cordelier. I think what is most important politically is the attitude the filmmaker takes with regard to all the aesthetic — or rather, so-called aesthetic — criteria which govern art in general and cinematic expression, in triple inverted commas, in particular. One can refine down afterwards, within the choices one has made, but that is what counts first of all. And what counted first of all for us, for Jean-Pierre and myself, him for Andromaque, me for the film, was the rejection of the idea of entertainment, and on the contrary the idea of an ordeal either imposed on or at least proposed to the viewer — who is no longer the comfortable viewer, but someone who participates in common work — long, difficult, responsible work something like delivering a baby. But it’s a sort of work that always has to be done again, this work of denying entertainment. There is a perpetual co-opting taking place or which always might take place, of the preceding stage, which is immediately taken up from an aesthetic point of view or a contemplative point of view: the prudent distance of people who won’t let themselves be caught twice, which is the basic attitude of all Western audiences.

And it is precisely the fear of always being co-opted which makes this desire to deny entertainment limitless. Films like Bergman’s or like Godard’s are actually only superficially co-opted by this sort of Parisian habit which makes it possible to take films in by saying ‘Oh, yes, of course, the theme of the absence of God’, and various other stupid remarks like that. This superficial co-opting does oblige the director to go further in the following film, to try once and for all to show that it isn’t a question of the absence of God or anything else, but of being suddenly confronted with every thing one rejects, by will or by force.

Time Overflowing
Jacques Rivette interviewed by Jacques Aumont, Jean-Louis Comolli, Jean Narboni, Sylvie Pierre.
Translated by Amy Gateff.
Originally appeared in Cahiers du Cinema 204, 1968. Interview conducted July 27, 1968.

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I think that the cinema, even at its most naturalistic, is always secretly involved in levels of dream and fantasy, and that we must see the so-called director as a kind of psychoanalyst. Like the psychoanalyst, the director does not talk, he listens — but this is, of course, just a metaphor.

The Director as Psychoanalyst: An Interview with Jacques Rivette
John Hughes
Reproduced from Rouge, edited by Helen Bandis, Adrian Martin and Grant McDonald. Published in Rouge 4 (2004) as “John Hughes On (And With) Jacques Rivette” by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Available online athttp://www.rouge.com.au/4/index.html

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RIVETTE: I detest the formulation “a film by”. A film is always at least fifteen people. I don’t like “réalisation” very much either, which seems to me very portentous, maybe because its root is “reality.” Mise en scène is a rapport with the actors, and the communal work is set with the first shot. What’s important for me in a film is that it be alive, that it be imbued with presence, which is basically the same thing. And that this presence, inscribed within the film, possesses a form of magic. There’s something profoundly mysterious in this. It’s an alchemy that one procures, or does not. Early in the shoot, anything’s still possible, but once you’ve made two or three steps, already you have to follow the course that the film has taken. But that’s what’s interesting. It’s a collective work, but one wherein there’s a secret, too. For that matter, the actor has his secrets as well — of which the director is the spectator.

Excerpts from Jacques Rivette Interview – L’art secret
Jean-Marc Lalanne et Jean-Baptiste Morain
Traduit par Craig Keller et Joseph Coppola
This was Translation publié dans le cadre au Cinemasparagus . Une section Supplémentaire was Traduit par Joseph Coppola et Était à Mes Extraits .

All texts above are cited from the web site Order of the Exil, dedicated to the work of Jacques Rivette.

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Paris nous appartient (1960) (with spanish subtitles) …

L’Amour fou (1969) …

(Deleted from youtube)

La Religieuse (1966) … a film that would be proscribed until 1967 …

To close, an interview with Rivette …

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