The Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of the Moving Image have conspired to destroy us all. Homes will be wrecked, classes flunked, hygiene abandoned. Brains may very well explode. Two of the most exhilarating and invaluable retrospectives in recent memory have been simultaneously released on New York moviegoers. MOMI unspools The Complete Jacques Rivette through December 31. MOMA surveys Roberto Rossellini through December 22. Kiss 2006 goodbye.
Both directors are associated with seminal film movements—Rivette with the French New Wave, Rossellini with Italian neorealism—yet much of their greatest work is notoriously difficult to see. In the case of the Rivette oeuvre, where a two-hour feature qualifies as shockingly brief, they can also be tough to sit through, though few filmmakers have made such revelatory use of extreme duration. Where are the wasted seconds in La Belle Noiseuse (November 25 through 26), a rapturous study of an artist (Michel Piccoli) and his model (Emmanuelle Béart); L’Amour Fou (December 3), a high-’60s riff on the nature of performance; or the mind-blowing, thematically related trio of Duelle (already screened), Noroît (ditto, alas), and The Story of Marie and Julien (December 23, 29)?
As for the legendary 13-hour extravaganza Out 1, the Museum of the Extremely Long, Outrageously Rare Moving Image splits the show over two days (December 9, 10) with dinner-break intermission during each program. The men from the boys, people.
Rivette is classically and consistently French in his approach to hardcore intellectualism as a delirious form of game play. He is at once the most cerebral and playful of filmmakers, delighting equally in puzzles and ontology, magic and metaphysics, conspiracy theories and the knottiest conundrums of modernism.
Rossellini is trickier to pin down to a unified sensibility; eclecticism is an essential part of his genius. There is the postwar aesthetic of neorealism, a quantum leap of form and content that has galvanized cinema to this day ( Borat is postmodern neorealism). There is the period of the proto-modernist masterpieces like Voyage in Italy (November 24), of which Rivette once wrote, “the film opens a breach, and all cinema, on pain of death, must pass through it.” And there are the late, great, unclassifiable history pictures like the magnificent The Rise of Louis XIV (December 16).
These aesthetic ruptures alienated many of his neorealist champions. “Breach often became abyss,” writes James Quandt, programmer of the Cinematheque Ontario, where the Rossellini show originated, in his typically excellent program notes, “and critics were left staring into the chasm Rossellini had opened while he quickly passed on to his next project, never looking back.” Come January, come what may at MOMI and MOMA, the departure of these epochal retrospectives will leave their own chasm in New York. Leap now.