Jacques Rivette, one of the pentad of critics-turned-filmmakers who became the architects of the French Nouvelle Vague, died at his home in Paris today, at age 87. (Of those five auteurs, only Jean-Luc Godard remains.) Open-ended, destabilizing, and abounding in enigmas, Rivette’s work is distinguished from those of his confrères for its focus on women: not just on female protagonists (as in The Nun from 1966 and his 1994 two-part epic on Joan of Arc) but also on the lives of women removed from men. Films like Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) and Up, Down, Fragile (1995) explore women’s quests for freedom and independence, female friendships and erotic attachments; crucially, these and other projects were developed as collaborations with his distaff casts.
The unconventional, highly generative approach Rivette took with many of his movies is illustrated by his remark on the origin of Céline and Julie Go Boating, a sui generis project that might best be described as a film about two friends on an adventure: “The first idea was to bring together Juliet [Berto] and Dominique [Labourier], who were already friends.” Berto is also a key player in the vast ensemble in Rivette’s thirteen-hour opus of post-’68 paranoia, Out 1 (1971) — which made its world theatrical premiere at BAM last November, an event that was followed the next month by the Film Society’s ingenious double retrospective “Lynch/Rivette.”
The filmmaker saw mysteries everywhere, especially in Paris, a city often imagined in his oeuvre as a place of infinite random encounters or sinister cabals; he would surely argue that the timing of these New York tributes was no coincidence. And if you missed those salutes to this incomparable maestro or simply want more of his all-too-rarely screened films, fate — or magic or some other kind of higher cine-power — has intervened once again: Next Wednesday and Friday, the Film Society shows Love on the Ground (1984), starring Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin as actress pals trying to solve an existential puzzle. Losing yourself in one of Rivette’s boundary-blurring movies will be the best way to mourn him.