The Greatest Enigma of French Film

Out 1

a film directed by Jacques Rivette
Carlotta, six Blu-ray discs and seven DVDs, $99.95
Jacques Rivette and Pascale Ogier, who starred with her mother, Bulle Ogier, in Rivette’s film Le Pont du Nord, New York City, 1981
Dominique Nabokov
Jacques Rivette and Pascale Ogier, who starred with her mother, Bulle Ogier, in Rivette’s film Le Pont du Nord, New York City, 1981

Jacques Rivette, who died on January 29 at the age of eighty-seven, was always the least known, least commercially successful, and most enigmatic of the French New Wave directors. The core group who got their start as critics at Cahiers du Cinéma in the early 1950s—Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer, and Rivette—and were collectively responsible for proposing the auteur theory and notable for their nuanced appreciation of American B movies were quite distinct from one another as filmmakers.

Godard was (and remains) the experimentalist with a didactic streak; Truffaut the old-school craftsman, somewhat given to sentimentality; Chabrol the serial purveyor of genre pieces, initially spiky if later sometimes lax; and Rohmer the austere Christian moralist with a vivid sense of human frailty. Rivette was the first of the group to make a film (the silent short Aux quatre coins, 1949), and among the first to start work on a feature (Paris Belongs to Us, which began production in 1958, although a host of factors delayed its release until late in 1961), but he was the last to find his own voice. Paris Belongs to Us and his second feature, La Religieuse, were both, in different ways, somewhat old-fashioned for the New Wave moment—they were fully scripted and storyboarded in advance, for one thing.

It wasn’t until L’Amour fou, released in 1969, that Rivette began his trademark practice of making open-ended films, developed in collaboration with their actors, relying to greater or lesser degrees on improvisation, and legendarily long: L’Amour fou at 252 minutes, Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) at 193 minutes, and the monster, Out 1: Noli me tangere (1971), which originally ran 760 minutes, was radically reedited and released as Out 1: Spectre (1972; 253 minutes), and is again available in something like its original form at 729 minutes. Rivette initially aimed Out 1 at television, dividing it into eight episodes, but that did not pan out.

After its single screening, on the night of September 9–10, 1971, in Le Havre, it was long doubted whether it would ever be shown again, especially since it only existed as a work print, in a questionable state of preservation. But in the late 1980s a screening print was struck and shown at a few European film festivals, and it eventually made its way to the United States and now onto DVD, which has made it easier to countenance the viewing of a twelve-hour motion picture.

There are various theories about the origins of the title: that it refers to outtakes, that it alludes to “out” jazz (Jonathan…

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