Death of a French maverick

Jacques Rivette dies at 87.

by Richard Mowe

Jacques Rivette: Nouvelle Vague director with a reputation for lengthy films
Jacques Rivette: Nouvelle Vague director with a reputation for lengthy films Photo: Unifrance

A French film director who was an integral part of the French New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague), has died in Paris at the age of 87.

Jacques Rivette’s celebrated films include Paris Belongs To Us, Celine And Julie Go Boating in 1974 and the four-hour La Belle Noiseuse with Emmanuelle Béart, Michel Piccoli and Jane Birkin in 1991 (dealing with an elderly artist and his creative rebirth). He worked alongside the likes of François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol in whose apartment he shot his first short film Le Coup de Berger. He was also a writer with Cahiers du Cinema magazine and assumed the editor’s chair from 1963 to 1965.

He borrowed money from the magazine to fund his first feature, Paris Belongs To Us, which was released in 1961. Its plot revolved around a group of actors rehearsing Shakespeare’s Pericles for a performance that never takes place. Chabrol, Godard, Jacques Demy and Rivette himself appear in the film.

His film of Diderot’s The Nun, starring Anna Karina, was controversially banned in France until 1975. It dealt with a woman trying to escape from the oppressive life in cloisters. He made a two-part epic on Joan of Arc in 1994 which earned actress Sandrine Bonnaire a César nomination.

Emmanuelle Béart in Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse
Emmanuelle Béart in Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse

Rivette acquired a reputation for lengthy works including in 1971 a 12 hour marathon titled Out 1 which followed a modern theatre group and revolved around the writings of Honoré de Balzac, and which only recently was re-released in cinemas and on DVD, bluray and VOD.

Birkin returned to work with Rivette who was born in Rouen, on his final film in 2009, Around a Small Mountain about the “struggles and joys of performance” through a band of travelling circus players whose ranks included Sergio Castellitto.

Many of his films epitomise the period in the 1950s and 1960s when he and his fellow filmmakers exploded onto the scene with creations that were vibrant, innovative and self-conscious.

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