The New Wave gave us essays on film, instead of real films. (I dont mean written essays, I mean films as essays on film) That’s because these guys were all critics before turning to filmmaking. Godard himself claims both practices are one in the same.
But ah, these little film-essays can only touch as deep as the points they make. And most of the time those points are only amusing at best. Films on the other hand twist and turn, sink and resurface in unexpected ways with varied vibrations. Their power is in the ambiguity of the distributed energy of thought and feeling. The New Wave stuff to me is only half that battle.
But it’s a half I am willing to live in. And what I enjoy about it is how close they graze an essence, the essence of art. They still only graze that, instead of grazing life, but if you allow art its place in the way you filter life, you can appreciate the way they tease you with sublime beauty.
And you can see it all here. The making of a painting, which is a variation on the making of a film. Our old mad painter (prolly Rivette himself) spouting aphorisms on art (which is a minor art in itself). The watching of that making by giving us long takes of the sketching. These sketches notably beautiful and applied (and actually made by a ‘real’ artist). And you will see that there is no proper ‘story’ per say, the story is the pure making of this painting (four hours in the version you should watch).
The ‘unproper’ story is about romance and creation and the way these two relate often in detrimental ways. Jane Birkin is perfect here because she is a sort of figure for strong character, confrontational living in art, through her association with Gainsbourg. She lived a harrowing life in love and art and part of her art was her love life. You could say she is a sort of embodiement of a New Wave film.
Beart is simply an inheritor of the French beauties before her (with a dash of Huppert). You can see that in her gaze which has this brooding purse-lipped vengeful quality. Like early New Wave, she is the star of the art here (the painting), and the reason it even exists in the first place. Except, her apparent ‘beauty’ is eschewed for something greater (as voiced by our painter): real tears, real ice, real fire. Very poetic, but it’s as true as the artificial nature of all construction.
And that’s precisely what I’m talking about here: the interplay between, the presence of direct beauty, and the intellect that abstracts the felt impressions to produce something.
And of course, what really matters to these men is the process. That’s the art of it, not the artifact. So the final painting here is never shown. But like I said, it’s only half a victory. Yet, it’s still a victory, so let’s celebrate it, in a sober way.