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Kamis, 21 April 2011

Jacques Rivette - Duelle (une quarantaine) AKA Twilight (A Quarantine) (1976)

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It all began (as things Rivettian tend to do) auspiciously enough. There were to be four films in a series originally entitled Les Filles du Feu (after Gerard de Nerval) before the more expansive Scenes de la vie parallele replaced it. Each would center on a “non-existent myth” of a battle between goddesses of the sun and the moon for a mysterious blue diamond that has the power to make mortals immortal and vice versa. Each film was to be in a different genre: a film noir, a pirate adventure, a love story, and finally a musical – the last-mentioned of whose scenario particulars hadn’t been completely worked out when the four-film project went into production. Two films were ultimately completed – Duelle (the film noir) and Noroit (1976, the pirate adventure). But two days into the shooting of the third, Histoire de Marie et Julien the metteur en scène (as Rivette always chose to call himself, auteurism be damned) suffered a nervous breakdown, and the entire project fell apart – though traces of it linger in Merry-Go-Round (1981, a paranoid conspiracy jape that has everything but the goddesses) and the semi-demi-musical Haut/Bas/Fragile (1995).

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Out of the original Scenes project, only Duelle was released in France. Noroit had a cursory premiere in Germany but never in its native country. As for Histoire de Marie et Julien, the few days of shooting Rivette managed to accomplish with Albert Finney and Leslie Caron were scrapped, and the project – clearly dear to his heart – was resurrected in 2003 with Jerzy Radzilowicz and Emmanuelle Béart replacing Finney and Caron, with its story concerning a ghost becoming human replacing the goddesses and the blue diamond. But so much about both cinema and Rivette had changed in 27 years, that Historie de Marie et Julien has next to nothing to do with Duelle and Noroit. Suffice to say that Scenes de la vie parallele was born of an era when Rivette (mistakenly) surmised that there was a large and growing audience of cineastes longing for a cross between Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) and Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson, 1945). What we’ve mostly seen instead is a mob of dissolute “fanboys” panting for the “grindhouse” detritus dear to Quentin Tarantino’s heart.

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Prior to the shooting of Duelle Rivette assembled the cast and screened Val Lewton and Mark Robson’s The Seventh Victim (1943) for them. And indeed there’s a great deal of that 40s thriller about a Greenwich Village satanist cult killing off recalcitrant members in Rivette’s film. But from the very first sight of Nicole Garcia’s Elsa (Or is it Jeanne? Plenty of ambiguity there already) in her Cloris Leachman-styled raincoat confessing ashamedly to Bulle Ogier’s Sun Goddess Viva that she works as a “dancer”, we’re taken back to that celebrated film maudit – beloved of the cinematic cognoscenti while falling short of the ever-exalted goals of its creator Robert Bresson.

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Adapted from a passage in Denis Diderot’s Jacques le Fataliste, and filmed during the Occupation, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne boasts dialogue by Jean Cocteau, and a richly iconic performance by Maria Casares. Both figures hover over Duelle, in the Casares-like turns of both Ogier and her Moon Goddess adversary Leni, played by a startlingly chic Juliet Berto. However it’s Garcia who gets to say “Je me vengerai”, as she’s the mortal who suffers most for gaining possession of the mysterious diamond via her thankless lover Pierrot, played by Jean Babillee – a dancer for whom Cocteau created the ballet “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort”. The most important Cocteau connection is the film’s “alternate text”, Cocteau’s seldom-staged verse drama The Knights of the Round Table. As Rivette disclosed, in an interview published in this very journal,

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"Cocteau is someone who has made such a profound impression on me that there’s no doubt he’s influenced every one of my films. He’s a great poet, a great novelist, maybe not a great playwright – although I really love one of his plays, The Knights of the Round Table, which is not too well known. An astonishing piece, very autobiographical, about homosexuality and opium. Chéreau should stage it. You see Merlin as he puts Arthur’s castle under a bad charm, assisted by an invisible demon named Ginifer who appears in the guise of three different characters: it’s a metaphor for all forms of human dependence." The Captive Lover - an Interview with Jacques Rivette

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