If you don’t know Rivette, it is worth following him. He is a sort of Resnais, or Rohmer, associated with the New Wave but concerned with much more than the reactionary agenda Godard spent his time promoting. They took the work seriously in terms of art and really wanted to contribute to the way we imagine stories visually from the get-go.
La Belle Noiseuse is a rare work of art about a rare work of art. It follows the making of a painting and it intrudes in the artist’s world as the work progresses: literally watching the art evolve, as well as the relationship with the painted model. The painting is echoed through all sorts of levels, but mostly through a few relationships that reflect the struggle of loving (living) with the struggle of painting. It has wonderful dialog, and a certain kind of natural acting that you can easily relax into. There even is an interesting twist at the end where we are not shown the painting. It is concealed by the artist between the walls of his studio.
This concealing is interesting for me. The idea is that real life can swallow art, or in this case ‘conceal’ it. If you know how Rivette shoots, you know this is explicitely the philosophy behind his projects: no script, emphasis on improvisation, with the telling of the story emanating day-to-day from natural progress. If you are an artist, you know this is one the most sublime work experiences you can have. The sense of self you gain from it, and the euphoria from simply intuiting destination, truly warrants a fulfillment of the kind you might have seeked all your life as a laborer. The real-time experience ends up taking precedence over the artifact which in itself retains some of the essence of the process, despite of what its overall value may be. In the end, the experience alone becomes a work of art which you carry and turn over in your mind and continue shaping in different ways on future projects. It is a true marriage between yourself and your craft. And definetely worth promoting.
It also permits a dissapropriation with the artwork. No matter how harduous the process, how scarring the suffering, there is no immediate catharsis, no simple gratification. I like this philosophy because it is an elegant way to convey what the entire New Wave tried to tell us so bluntly: that cinema is simply artifact.
So this here, is an experiment in the same vein. It has a mystery too, but it is there only to serve as metaphor for the making of something. That something is a relationship. That relationship is predestined, with the woman under many guises. You need to have a woman playing roles for this kind of exercise. Here, the lover literally exists in a dream (at the start), enters real life and gets involved (as a replacement of somebody’s wife), in the process gets ‘cut’ but does not bleed, and finally leaves to exist simultaneously at two levels until the end where we assume the thing will start over again (although with new insight and not without sacrafice).
It references all kinds of ‘making’. The love scenes are encounters where each player back and forth suggests a sexual narrative. Julien is a clockmaker and time is spent observing him work. Marie is working towards recreating the room where she once died. A parallel plot involves blackmailing where a woman is returned a letter, a picture, and a doll. The letter ties her to a dream-world where Marie also exists. The picture is the movie-within, the visual clue into the dreamworld, and the doll has ‘something inside its head, crazy ideas’, which we assume is Rivette himself. The return of these things drive part of the story forward till the final element is returned and the dream-world and real-world merge, and the real-relationship can begin.
But something real precious is the filmmaking. It is riddled with small ordinary gestures, the regular nuances of everyday situations. You can’t script this stuff, it is pulled from life. Beart is not very smart and she acts mostly with her eyes, but she is pretty. On the other hand Jerzy Radziwilowicz is adequatly Polish. He infers this typically Polish pain, bleak, troubled, mystical.
This is very smart stuff. Not sublime, but reverent. This old man is great company, I tell you.