Jacques Pierre Louis Rivette in Rouen, 1 March 1928.
Lycée Corneille, Rouen.
Moved to Paris, began writing for
Gazette du cinéma
, 1950; writer for
Cahiers du Cinéma
, from 1952; worked on films in various capacities, 1952–56;
directed first film in 35mm,
Le Coup de berger
, 1956, co-scripted with Chabrol, and featuring Godard and Truffaut in
small roles; first feature,
Paris nous appartient
, released 1961; editor-in-chief,
Cahiers du Cinéma
, 1963–65; director for French TV, from late 1960s.
Berlin Film Award, for
The Gang of Four
Films as Director:
Aux Quatre Coins ; Le Quadrille
Le Coup de berger (+ co-sc)
Paris nous appartient ( Paris Belongs to Us ) (+ role as party guest)
La Religieuse ( Suzanne Simonin, la religieuse de Denis Diderot ; The Nun ) (+ co-sc); Jean Renoir, le patron (for TV)
L'Amour fou (+ co-sc)
Out 1: noli me tangere (for TV, never released)
Out 1: ombre (+ co-sc); Céline et Julie vont en bateau ( Céline and Julie Go Boating ) (+ co-sc)
Duelle ( Twilight ) (+ co-sc); Noroît ( Northwest ) (+ co-sc)
Merry-Go-Round (+ co-sc) (released 1983)
Le Pont du Nord ( North Bridge ); Paris s'en va
L'Amour par terre
Hurlevent ( Wuthering Heights )
La Bande des quatre
Belle noiseuse (+ sc)
La Belle Noiseuse
Jeanne la Pucelle
Haut Bas Fragile (+ sc)
Secret defense ( Secret Defense ) (+ sc)
Va Savoir! (+ sc)
French Cancan (Renoir) (asst); Une Visite (Truffaut) (ph)
Chronique d'un été ( Chronicle of a Summer ) (Morin and Rouch) (role as Marilu's Boyfriend)
By RIVETTE: articles—
Regular contributor to Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), 1952–69, and to Arts (Paris), 1950s.
Interviews, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1963 and Autumn 1974.
Interview, in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), April 1966.
Interview, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1968.
Interview, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1974.
Interview, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1974/75.
Interview with S. Daney and J. Narboni, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1981.
Interview with P. Carcassonne and others, in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1982.
Interview with Joël Magny, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1991.
Interview with Frédéric Strauss, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1993.
On RIVETTE: books—
Armes, Roy, French Cinema since 1946: Vol 2—The Personal Style , New York, 1966.
Monaco, James, The New Wave , New York, 1976.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, editor, Rivette: Texts and Interviews , London, 1977.
On RIVETTE: articles—
Burch, Noël, "Qu'est-ce que la Nouvelle Vague?," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1959.
Tyler, Parker, "The Lady Called A: or, If Jules and Jim Had Only Lived at Marienbad," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1962.
Stein, E., "Suzanne Simonin, Diderot's Nun," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1966.
Lloyd, P., "Jacques Rivette and L'Amour Fou ," in Monogram (London), Summer 1971.
"Rivette Issue" of Cinéma (Paris), March 1975.
Bassan, Raphaël, "Sur l'oeuvre de Jacques Rivette," in Image et Son (Paris), October 1981.
Chevrie, M., "Jacques Rivette, la ligne et l'aventure," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1984.
Blanchet, C., "Jacques Rivette: Une poétique du complot," in Cinéma (Paris), November 1984.
Magny, Joel, and others, "Côte cour, côte jardin," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1989.
Arecco, S., "Quel luogo supremo in cui il tempo e abolito . . . ," in Filmcritica , March 1990.
Roberti, B., "Il gioco infinito della 'messa in scena,"' in Filmcritica , March 1990.
Sabouraud, F., "Jue de pistes," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1990.
"Jacques Rivette," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1991.
Bassan, R., "La belle noiseuse," in Revue du Cinema , September 1991.
Riding, A., "One Artist Looks at Another in 'La belle noiseuse,"' in New York Times , 13 October 1991.
Sartor, F., "Rivette, Piccoli and Beart," in Film en Televisie & Video , November 1991.
Feldvoss, M., "Die schoene Querulantin, Divertimento," in EPD Film , March 1992.
Giavarini, L., "Ombre portee," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1992.
Lane, Anthony, "Back to the Easel," in New Yorker , September 20, 1993.
Rouchy, Marie-Élisabeth, and Fabienne Pascaud, in Télérama (Paris), 9 February 1994.
Bouquet, Stéphane, "Le temps de filmer et le temps de vieillir," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1995.
Doinel, Milan, "Out One," in Film a Doba (Prague), Winter 1996.
Daney, S., in Revista de Comunicacao e Linguagens , December 1996.
Bonnaud, Frédéric, and Milan Doinel, "Titanic, Vetøelec and Jacques Rivette," in Film a Doba (Prague), Winter 1998.
* * *
In the days when the young lions of the New Wave were busy railing against "Le Cinéma du papa" in magazine articles and attending all-night screenings of Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis movies at La Cinémathèque, Jacques Rivette was quite the keenest cinephile of them all. He made a short as early as 1950, worked as an assistant director for Becker and Renoir, and wrote endless essays for Gazette du Cinéma and Cahiers du Cinéma , which he would later edit. If his films seem academic and acutely self-reflexive, we must remember that he is somebody who has spent an eternity theorizing about cinema.
Rivette's first feature, Paris nous appartient , clocks in at a mere 140 minutes, and takes as its theme the abortive attempt by a group of French actors to mount a production of Shakespeare's Pericles. Rivette's fascination with the play-within-the-film, a leitmotif of his work, is given an initial, and not entirely successful, airing here. The film seems stage-bound, literary, and rather earnest, something which Rivette himself would later acknowledge: "I am very unhappy about the dialogue, which I find atrocious."
After his second feature, La Religieuse , was briefly banned (although it did make money) on account of its perceived anti-clericalism, Rivette decided to abandon conventional narrative cinema. Unlike Godard, who never managed to fully overcome the cult of personality (even Tout va bien and his other post-1968 collaborations with Gorin are inevitably treated as the great Jean-Luc's personal statements), Rivette easily evolved a kind of collective cinema, where the director's role was on a par with that of the actors. He gave his actors the task of improvising his/her dialogue and character and let the narrative stumble into being. A haphazard and risky working method, Rivette found this infinitely preferable to rigidly conforming to a pre-conceived script. As a result, Rivette's films rarely appear polished and finished.
The subject matter of Rivette films is often rehearsal: they explore the process of creation, rather than the finished artefact itself. L'Amour fou , an account of a company's attempts to produce Racine's Andromaque while the director and his actress-wife have a break-up, stops short of opening night.
In Rivette's monumental work Out , which lasts a full thirteen hours but has only ever seen the commercial light of day as Ombre , a four-hour shadow of itself, Rivette takes his theory of Direct Cinema as far as it will go. Determined to make a film "which, instead of being predicated on a central character presented as the conscience, reflecting everything that happens in the action, would be about a collective," the director assembled a large cast of actor/characters, amongst them Juliet Berto and Jean-Pierre Leaud. The film opens as a documentary. Only very gradually does Rivette allow a fictional narrative to emerge through the interaction of the cast. He describes Out as being "like a game . . . a crossword."
Rivette commissioned Roland Barthes to write for Cahiers du Cinéma. Rivette share Barthes' well-chronicled suspicion of authors, and he is also a fervent "intertextualist": his films abound in references to other books and films. The Hunting of the Snark , Aeschylus, Balzac, Shakespeare, and Edgar Allen Poe are all liable to be thrown into the melting pot. He mixes 16mm and 35mm film stock in L'Amour fou , where he actually depicts a television crew filming the same rehearsals that he is filming: a case of Chinese boxes, perhaps, that goes some way to explaining his unpopularity with certain British critics. Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times described the director's 1974 film, Céline et Julie vont en bateau , as a "ghastly exhibition of incompetent pretentiousness" while David Robinson suggested that L'Amour par terre offered the director's "now accustomed fey and onanistic silliness."
It should be noted that both of the films attacked above offered strong parts for women. Rivette, more than most of his New Wave contemporaries, has provided opportunities for actresses. He is hardly the most prolific director, and the length of his films has often counted against him. Nonetheless, his clinical, self-reflexive essays in film form, coupled with the sophisticated games he continues to play within the "house of fiction," reveal him as a cinematic purist whose commitment to the celluloid muse has hardly diminished since the heady days of the 1950s.
—G. C. Macnab