February 8, 2016

Rivette on Judex (1963, Georges Franju)



Or the return to sources: it is, more than ever, the shot, the image that is guiding the film; it’s its logic that is in charge of the events. That is, any remark is in vain that doesn’t first take this into account: white and black, their nuances, their contrasts, their interplay and conflicts: this is the subject matter of Judex — but without referent, or reference, to some ‘beyond’, or abstract signification, within their appearances alone, and those by which they dress things up. Of those obscure silhouettes clinging to the length of a wall bathed by Kleig lights, there is nothing to infer, except to contemplate their inexorable ascent; of those human-birds, metaphysical-nothing, except to follow the ritual of an unknown ceremony, whose order is precisely (as we see it, as we go along) to open itself up by a pent-up pigeon, and to end in death: this is true, then false, but true resurrection, as Edith Scob, as it so happens [“au fil de l’eau”], is a real dead girl and a fake drowned one, then the opposite. 

Nothing but appearances, but all in the same movement as their emergence, their birth, their invention: secret of the origin of the cinema, that exists here as though it were, from now on, no longer referring to a secret. But at the same time, our astonishment before it: Franju is at once the one who, through science, rediscovers the secret, and the modern one who knows it’s lost — and, astonishing himself with his power, keeping watch over the secret, affirming it, at last, beyond all doubt. 

Jacques Rivette
Cahiers du cinéma, 
no. 154, April 1964

This English translation, made in 2008 by Craig Keller, first appeared in the booklet of the Eureka/Masters of Cinema DVD edition of Georges Franju's Judex (1963) and Nuits Rouges (1973). Many thanks to Keller for his kind permission to publish it here. 

February 1, 2016

Rivette on Eisenstein (1956)


An Esoteric Order

Eisenstein's writings most often treat questions of montage and time, but his genius is nevertheless essentially plastic. Undoubtedly he devoted himself to problems of rhythm for such a long time simply because they always remained problems for him, problems he never really solved. That evolution which everyone deplores is deplorable only because there are always observers to lament the fact that creators extend themselves to the limit of their capacities. Ivan the Terrible, the culmination of Eisenstein's career, is also the apotheosis of his plastic genius. And we must understand "plastic" in its highest sense. Geometrical obsessions, the systematic deformation of lines, the amplification of stylization of gestures, all those processes which most diretors use only as affectation or in an attempt to disguise their weaknesses, are here really the goal of direction. There is no need to paraphrase Malraux to show that it is impossible to separate the role of metaphysics from that of expression, and that Eisenstein's greatness lies precisely in the union of the two. The most formal of directors is haunted by the sacred; in his work everything tends toward the ceremonial, and the ceremony can be that of the oratorio, of ballet, or of religious celebration. Everything is directed, not toward a new way of reproducing reality, but toward finding a style of "representation," almost an allegorical figuration. The combined influences of, among other things, Noh drama, Leonardo, and the rites of the orthodox Church, finally create a universe of pure liturgy in which the aesthetic replaces the mystical. Beyond all doubt, Eisenstein's ambition is of an esoteric order. But far from harming him, this esoteric quality is perhaps the best guarantee of his survival. Earth and Mother have lost their prestige within a few years because their directors had no secrets, they had only processes. Eisenstein, on the other hand, staked his all on the realm of the secret and voluntarily submitted all the spectacular elements of his films to wholly abstract and private thought. 

Jacques Rivette
Arts (#561)
March 28, 1956

January 31, 2016

Rivette on Les quatre cents coups 
(The 400 Blows, 1959)


The effort to publish and re-publish more of Jacques Rivette's writings must intensify. It is not right, a world without Rivette... it need not even be. 

Prior to the first public showing of Truffaut's first feature, this Rivette article appeared...



Les Mistons was all right; The 400 Blows is better. From one film to the other, our friend François has made the decisive leap, the giant step toward maturity. It's obvious that he's not wasting his time. 

With The 400 Blows, we return to our childhood as we would return to a house that had been abandoned since the war. Our childhood (even if it is first of all a question of F. T.'s childhood) means suffering the consequences of a stupid lie, and involves humiliation, the revelation of injustice, abortive attempts to escape—no, there is no "sheltered" childhood. Speaking of himself, he seems to be speaking of us, too: this is the sign of truth, and the reward of real classicism, which knows how to limit itself to its object, but suddenly sees this object cover the whole field of possibilities. 

For reasons that might be guessed, autobiography is not a genre that is very widely used in films. But this should not surprise us as much as the serenity, the restraint, the evenness of voice with which a past that parallels his own so closely has been evoked here. The F. T. that I met, with Jean-Luc Godard, at the Parnasse at the end of '49 or at Froeschel's or the Minotaure, had already done his apprenticeship for The 400 Blows; I swear we talked more of cinema, of American films, of a Bogart movie being shown at the Moulin de la Chanson than we spoke about ourselves, or else we merely alluded to our personal lives: that was enough. Or a snapshot produced suddenly would reveal what F. T. looked like three years before, at a shooting gallery, dazzled by the lights, pale, a smaller-sized Hossein, with Robert Lachenay leaning against his shoulder; or would show the three ritual rows of schoolboys in a fossilized class photo. This mixture of vagueness and sudden enlightenment came finally to seem like real recollections, real memories. I'm almost sure of that now, for I recognized or rediscovered everything on the screen ... 

I should like the reader to really see my point: this film is personal and autobiographical, but never immodest. There is no exhibitionism of any sort here; Even prison is beautiful, but with a different sort of beauty. F. T.'s strong point is that he never directly speaks of himself, but instead patiently dogs the footsteps of another young boy (who perhaps resembles him like a brother, but an objectified younger brother), yields to him, and humbly reconstructs from personal experience a reality which is equally objective, and which he then films with absolute respect. Such a method of filming has a very fine name (and too bad for F. T. if he doesn't know what it is): its name is Flaherty . . . [One example] of the truth that can be attained by this method, and of the truth of the film in and of itself, is the admirable scene with the woman psychologist—which would have been impossible, incidentally, under the outmoded methods of shooting that people go on insisting we keep . . . Here, the dialogue and the direction emerge with all the truthfulness of "live" shooting; the cinema thereby reinvents television, and television in turn consecrates it as cinema; there is no more room here for anything except the admirable last three shots, shots that are pure duration, perfect liberation. 

The whole film mounts toward this moment, and little by little sloughs off time in order to rejoin duration: the idea of length and shortness that so haunts F. T. seems in the end to have hardly any meaning in his case; or perhaps on the contrary it was necessary to have such an obsession about length, about temps morts, such an abundance of cuts, of jerks, of breaks that eventually he could get rid of the old clockwork time and rediscover real time, that of Mozartian jubilation (which Bresson seeks too desperately to ever recapture)...The 400 Blows also represents the triumph of simplicity. 

Not from poverty, nor from a lack of invention, quite the contrary: but he who from the beginning places himself in the center of the circle, has no desperate need to seek to square it. The most precious thing about film, and the most fragile, is also what keeps disappearing day by day under the reign of "clever" filmmakers: a certain purity of gaze, an innocence of the camera which here seems never to have been lost at all. It is enough perhaps to believe that things are what they are to see them simply exist on the screen as they do in life; can this belief have been lost by others? But this eye and this train of thought opening on the very center of things represent the filmmaker's state of grace: to be inside cinema from the outset, master of the heart of a domain whose frontiers can then extend to infinity: and to this we give the name Renoir. I might also stress the extraordinary tenderness with which F. T. speaks of cruelty, which can only be compared to the extraordinary gentleness with which Franju speaks of madness; here and there, an almost unbearable force results from the constant use of understatement, and the refusal of eloquence, of violence, of explanation, giving each image a pulse, an inner quiver, that makes its mark in a few brief flashes that gleam like a knife-blade. We could speak, quite properly, of Vigo, or of Rossellini, or even more pertinently still, of Une Visite or Les Mistons. In the long run, all these references don't mean very much, but we must hurry and make them while there's still time. I just wanted to say, as simply as possible, that there is now among us, not a gifted and promising beginner, but a genuine French filmmaker who equals the very greatest, and his name is François Truffaut. 

Jacques  Rivette 

CdC no. 95, May '59


December 7, 2015


('L'Amerique sans peur et sans reproche: Star Wars', 
Cahiers du Cinéma 283, December 1977) 

by Serge Le Peron

In pursuing the implications of the exceptional success of Star Wars and its huge appeal to filmgoers of all kinds, one ought not to lay too much stress on the film's status as 'science fiction'. For a long time science fiction has been the generic repository of fear, madness, disaster, paranoia, of the speedfreaks and depressives. All are absent from Star Wars, in the genre's finest authors (Dick, Ballard), the future is only secondarily the place of adventure and escape, distraction and entertainment; the genre's best films (2001 for example, but also Lucas's very interesting THX 1138) do not particularly offer themselves as 'modern fairy tales'. It's pointless to labour this.

Star Wars would rather be 'a romantic, confident, positive vision', atemporal, universal and of course unanimist — but a new kind of unanimism [1], one no longer concerned with some or other strategy of tension, no longer that of a necessary common front against an enemy within and/or without (disaster films like Jaws), but one which derives from a freely felt consensus, being dictated neither by the law of necessity, nor by a pronounced imperative or any kind of reason, without shock, jolts, fear or surprise but with pleasure and confidence. The encounter with science fiction in Star Wars, the fact that the action takes place in a science-fiction universe, doubtless permits such confidence to be retrieved and projected towards the future, a future offering immediate ideological benefit. But above all, the reference to science fiction has the immense advantage of allowing the creation of a fluid fictional space, without apparent anchorage, one that enfolds and solicits: something like the pacific and pacifying American Mother who gathers to her bosom, with all the soft technological refinements that are hers, all that the bellicose uncle (a certain Uncle Sam), because of the brutalities of his war machinery, had excluded. Young people, the hippies, counter-cultural figures were basically rejecting this childish make-believe. Now we are witnessing the full-scale return to the territorial waters of former years, to a floating mass with fluid contours, without frontiers; it's no longer 'to hell with frontiers'. Everyone is invited to play as before with what Welles called 'the biggest electric train set in the world' - the cinema, Hollywood — as a family (like on television), under the calm, honest eye of a mother ever-vigilant over morality (the moral). The America of President Carter? But in such a film it is also capital that talks.

Lucas comes from the ranks of those we used, some time ago, to call nostalgics, pessimists, depressives, and we now know that they were right to be so. It is also men like him who find themselves now entrusted with gigantic projects (like Star Wars) in the general fight against depression, and they certainly do this with the same eagerness with which they struggled against repression in the previous decade. There has been a sea-change (if not a change of base) in America. This is a period less of rebellion against the symbols of repression, more of a determined recharging of flat batteries — through the artificial injection of a lost imagination. The question is: what imagination? It is no easy matter to rediscover it. For a film-maker like Lucas, barely thirty years old and finding himself of the post-Westerns generation, the solution resides in a return to childhood; more precisely, in a return to the conditions of his childhood and the cinema of easy-going adventure movies in which he was cradled. Because of the lack of the 'positive' [2], in the available contemporary imagination (above all in science fiction), the solution is seen to lie in a synthesis of old forms. The problem, therefore, is technical; it is enough to return to the terms and themes of this cinema (those in fact brought out by film studies) and make them more sophisticated, dress them up in special effects, present them as signs to be recognized, decoded. 'Heroes as independent as they are enterprising, irredeemably evil bad guys', 'the triumph of good over evil', etc.

From this point it is a matter of making the screenplay scientifically conform to this program, following the computer logic which translates its question-signs into response-signs. Equally, story, characters, actors don't in themselves have great importance: they are there simply to attest to the intentions of the screenplay, they are the supports of these intentions. This is what gives the film its coldness (not an aggressively dry coldness; the film is more cool than cold) and the feeling that everything is already played out in advance (in contrast to the adventure films already referred to) and that the events are only detours in a standardized plot. You very quickly get the impression of a constant interchangeability (as with those standard parts of a machine which can be replaced by an identical part), and it is soon impossible to see Princess Leia Organa as anything other than 'the impeccably brave heroine' of the advance publicity, or to nod knowingly when the cliches of the Western crop up in the scene in the city of Mos Eisley, or to do more then see Peter Cushing as the sign of absolute evil because of his numerous shady dealings with Dracula and Frankenstein [3]. A reading without risks that rapidly becomes monotonous (one could also see the wheels turning in Jaws, but there were nevertheless a few moments when the film carried the audience with it, a few troubling passages).

And the whole thing (the vast apparatus of Production-Direction-Distribution), whilst functioning admirably (in the packed cinemas at the end of the film we applaud the heroes when they enter the royal hall on the planet Yavin, at the same time as the enthusiastic crowd on the screen), leaves the lover of fiction hungry for more; but logically so, for the fiction of Star Wars functions like nothing so much as a user-friendly computer in perfect working order [4].
One way or another, fiction requires passion; there is no great fiction without great passion and no great film without there being a great love story behind it. This is what differentiates the cinema from other media such as the comic strip, which gets by very well without it, or television, which serves here as the model of cinema (and perhaps is the key to its success). Like Inspector Kojak in the American television series, the heroes of Star Wars are not impassioned types; they act intuitively and are utterly disengaged. The passions that they come up against are fleeting and comprehensive, and without consequence. Rivals co-exist, calmly: an unthinkable state of affairs in the old adventure films where the rule was, in Gresham's Law [5] of Hollywood fiction, that the hero chased the other man. In the fiction of Star Wars one finds the binary system which is the working practice of capitalism today: two heroes, virtually equivalent (and in the princess's heart, as strictly equivalent as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the heart of New York), and incredibly, deliberately desexualized [6]. 

The fictional system of Star Wars echoes the intense participation and great lethargy, deep involvement and great indifference that belong to the consumption of television. Where it all happens or in what historical period is immaterial; as is whether the young protagonists love one another or not (and whether the princess loves either of them); sex has no importance, nor does violence; nor even the dedicated totalitarianism of the 'Empire' (its nature, and what is implied by that); nor the death of Ben Kenobi (the old patriarch played by Alec Guinness). Everything is and is intended to be deliberately abstract, presenting itself as principle, postulate and conventional indicator and never the motor, dynamic force or launching pad of fiction.

Star Wars therefore breaks with the cinematic mania that in recent years has pushed films beyond any previously conceivable limits, towards extreme violence, hard pornography, disaster movies; the mania for bringing everything into the open in order to provoke a strong emotional response and a bellicose unanimism. In Star Wars all heterogeneity is admissible, all alterities and differences can be present, functioning in perfect narrative harmony, provided that all this takes place in the absence of sex. So the problem is resolved at its very root, if one can put it like that: no more sex, violence, passion, or even fiction, only cohabitation, intrigue, aloofness (such is the fate of these aloof heroes). Finish with sex and you finish with the risks of conflict, violent emotions, the force of fiction. No matter, the 'force' is elsewhere, as the film's poster ('May the Force be with you') puts it.

It is the quiet force of capital that has produced the film with remarkable economy; one precisely matched in the shooting and the special effects, in line with the film's ambition and budget [7]. It is a knowing film that renews the Hollywood spirit of wanting films to be in some way edifying; here, in what replaces fiction, is the film's whole concept.

This approach is one that has nothing in common with Kubrick's in Barry Lyndon where, for the battle scenes, he used long lenses to film thousands of extras as if he had only thirty, in story terms a pointless expense. Such is the twilight (noted by Oudart) of the Hollywood machine, clouded over by a crazy imagination which gives way to this calm and starry sky where technique triumphs over imagination; like all the rest, fed through the synthesizer. The story of the film's production would constitute a real science-fiction subject that would make one shudder.

Translated by Chris Darke


1. 'Unanimism': a literary movement, concerned with an idealist notion of the collective, which flourished in France after the First World War. Its adherents included the writers Jules Romains and Georges Duhamel.

2. In fact it is wrong to pretend that the adventure film had disappeared from the screens (for some time it had worked mainly on the principle of the shock effect), and even Lucas's childhood had not been one surrounded completely by reassuring mythological spaces. There is a Golden Age ideology in Star Wars, a rewriting of cinema's history, just as the auteurs of the Western were rewriting American history.
(Author's note.)

3. In the Terence Fisher films in question it is not so simple. Evil cannot just appear, it must be imagined as such on each occasion. In these films it is never a matter of a primitive accumulation, even if they are sometimes thought of as sequels to one another. Star Wars is happy to grind out the effects tat cinema (American cinema) has taken years to build up, and reduces the great cinematic myths (the adventure film in particular, but not exclusively) to narrative references, to the status of road signs. A sad fate, and a strange gift to the children. (Author's note.)

4. Kubrick has shown that even a computer can fictionalize better than this, if you take the trouble. One recalls the awful chess game with the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey: the cosmonaut who plays poorly and who strips the computer's electronic brain, provoking in the victim an uncannily human moan. (Author's note.)

5. Gresham's law is the economic theory that bad money drives out good money. 

6. This is all the more extraordinary if one recalls that in THX the two heroes were revolting against a world without either affective or sexual love, and that this was the motor of the fiction. (Author's note.)

7. In fact, the production costs of the film were remarkably reasonable ($9.5 million) compared to recent productions of the same type (King Kong [1976], for example), and considering the technical inventiveness which had to be demonstrated: the 360 special effects (most of them never seen before), the John Dykstra workshop, the two thousand units of sound on the soundtrack, etc. (Author's note.)

October 8, 2015



Philippe Garrel: A week ago in Paris I showed "Actua 1" (1968) before Regular Lovers (2004)-- so I showed the newsreel right before the re-creation-- and the two really blended together. I think that from now on I will show "Actua 1" before Regular Lovers, which is from 2004-- 35 years after "Actua 1" -- and in which I actually redid shots from "Actua 1" when I thought that that film was lost. That duo works much better together. 

But in this case [the 2015 New York Film Festival screening] seeing "Actua 1" with In the Shadow of Women (2015), what does work is when you see the Resistance footage, the Liberation of Paris, because here you see history being written into the screen. It's a bit like what the people who saved France from Nazism said, "From the Resistance to the Revolution"-- and the master of that question was, of course, Eisenstein, who in 1927 re-created the Revolution of 1917. The effect of truth he achieved was that he got Lenin to come and play himself among the extras 10 years later, and that was, I believe, in the film October. What I'm giving now is a kind of cinema lesson-- I'm a professor first and foremost. I used to be a student of the New Wave, now I'm a professor.

As we were speaking of future generations earlier, when future generations see the Eisenstein films they think they are watching actual news footage, that they're watching newsreels of the Revolution, because Lenin is there; he has a little bit less hair but, for all the rest, it's Lenin.

What actually happened to me is that I got a phone call from someone who told me they'd seen a shot from 
Regular Lovers on French TV, when there were riots in the Paris suburbs, where they just inserted a shot of cars burning from Regular Lovers and used the fiction in the news. So, artists make objects that are proof of history.

It's like, for instance, the French director Jean-Paul Le Chanois, he made a movie Au cœur de l'orage, In the Heart of the Storm (1944-45), 
in which you see shots of the Vercors, the remote resistance dens, the Maquis, and what happened there is that he had filmed in that area but his film was damaged by humidity. So right after the war, when he found that his film was damaged, in '45, he asked real Resistance fighters to recreate what they had done and he filmed them. And today that footage is considered news footage, newsreel footage. It's like here in the US, you venerate Angela Davis, some shots of Angela Davis, some shots of the Berkeley riots, but there are very few actual, real documents and it's artists who reconstruct things, reconstruct objects, and who tell something of histories and ultimately make the news.

Caroline Deruas: [Regarding In the Shadow of Women:] Philippe, as always, has a very, not masochist but… He has a very masculine gaze and this time I wanted him to try to look on the other side...

Philippe Garrel: As Freud said we know very little about women's libido, because, as he said, women don't say as much when they're on the therapist's couch. It's an interesting search for a man to do… this is why I admire the New Wave. As I was saying earlier, because of its political side as it relates to "Actua 1", but also as proof of the communication between one man and one woman, whether it's a man filming a woman or… The New Wave was really a history of cinema as communication between man and woman. While I was watching the movie earlier, I was thinking of Cléo from 5 to 7
, naturally, because Agnès Varda is here. It's something that was very powerful for our generation-- and it was for Chantal Akerman too-- which is that cinema was useful in our life. It's not that cinema helps to heal the wounds of love-- reality is reality and films can't change that-- but it's really something that shows the communication between man and woman, and I think that's the most interesting thing in life.

Caroline Deruas: I just want to say: there is a book behind the script of this film, a book by Mario Soldati, The Capri Letters, which has the same shape as the film, a parallel between women's libido and men's…

Clotilde Courau: [On working with Garrel:] I felt that the film is also about the notion of sacrifice. I remember talking with Philippe, talking a lot about the notion of sacrifice in love-- and resistance. Do women have that quality more than men? I don't know. We've been talking a lot about it. Working with Philippe, the great thing-- and I wish all the directors were doing the same thing-- is that we have to be together for maybe seven weeks, eight weeks; once a week we meet, and its not really rehearsing. It's not a play. We're spending time together. In Philippe's work it's not about finding the emotion, it's finding the truth of the situation and then the movements, and then everything will come from the truth of that moment. Finding the right place of that moment (…) We talked about libido. I also think it's a question of generation. I don't know if we have the same answers today. I don't know...

Philippe Garrel: There's something that relates to our species' evolution, something much slower than the movement of other ideas and gestures, but this movement exists over our whole lives, and we ourselves participate in our lives, in our evolution. Freud said that, and it's actually a scary thought, to think that things don't change so fast. 
Now, when I was in psychoanalysis with an older Moroccan analyst I told him I wanted to do a film about women's libido being as strong as man's and because he was a 92 year-old, he simply responded: "probably". If the speed of the species in our lives changes, if it moves in our life just a quarter of a millimeter, that's already very impressive: we're monsters of change. That's Godard who thinks that: we're monsters. At the end of his film France/tour/détour/deux/enfants he says "the monsters will go home", "the monsters will eat dinner"… But maybe it's also possible that we can't change the world at all when it comes to love.

(From the French interpreter's [name unknown! Please inform me if you know...] immediate translation of the post-screening talk by Philippe Garrel, Caroline Deruas, and Clotilde Courau following the October 6, 2015 screening of "Actua 1" and In the Shadow of Women at the New York Film Festival. Video  here.)

September 10, 2015

September 1, 2015

for E.E.

The first frame of the third version of La Madre (J.-M. S.)
and the first frame of the second version.