Merry-Go-Round (1981)

16 06 2008

Hands down, Rivette’s best film. Well, at least so far, of course. It isn’t even his most visually or technically accomplished film by a long shot, but this is one of the few cases where his surreal touches work for me. The credit here is probably due to the cast as Maria Schneider and Joe Dallesandro make up one of the greatest cinematic teams of all-time, though it was unfortunately only a one-time deal. William Lubtchansky lends his usual gracefulness with the camera, and I guess there is more kinetic energy (i.e a mobile camera) than in the other Rivette films. Where as the surreal parts of a film like Histoire de Marie et Julien seem more aligned to Lynch-type gimmickry, this one is much more in the vein of Herzog and/or Korine, which is certainly my preference.

Like almost all of Rivette’s films, we have somewhat of a plot here, but it eventually becomes incomprehensible and thankfully, unimportant. Leo and Ben meet up to find Elisabeth, Leo’s sister and Ben’s girlfriend. They eventually meet her in an old mansion, but she’s kidnapped by …some people? In all honesty, I’m particularly sure, but it is mostly irrelevant anyway. Basically, the film is built around the “adventures” (so to speak) of Leo and Ben. There’s a subplot about the number three, but again this never amounts to anything subsantial and that is, at least in my view, a positive element in this film. It would be disappointing to hear that the film is suppose to be some sort of metaphor, or allegory for something because such nonsense would downplay the sheer spontaneity of everything.

Like Even Dwarfs Started Small before it, Merry-Go-Round captures an unexplainable level of cinematic truth in the realm of something that is completely untruthful. Perhaps its hard to understand just how fascinating it is to watch something so bizarre unfold in the utmost convincing way. I’d hate to use a term like “unpredictable” but the narrative seems to roam in every which direction with multiple events going on nearly all the time. This isn’t to say its enjoyable like some “converging storylines” type of film is, but it just has the right amount of disregard for plot that nothing seems remotely forced. This is almost unheard of in Rivette’s world. For as great as his other films are, they (almost) all seemed to be dragged down by unnecessary elements that were thrown in at the last minute. Here, everything is so completely natural (one cannot stress this enough!) that the 150-minute running time feels fairly short.

All the previously mentioned aspects of the film are great, but in addition to the Herzog-style surrealism, there is a great “complicated relationship” lining. At one point in the film, a ten minute stretch covers a completely crazy/weird/bizarre scene, which is then followed by one of the most convincingly real conversations in the history of cinema. I’m referring to the scene of Leo and Ben walking around in an aging house and looking for something related to the number three, which then segways into a post-dinner conversation that would make even Aaron Katz envious. It might be the presence of Little Joe, but the way Rivette seamlessly blends these two approaches is not completely unlike Paul Morrissey’s trilogy. Needless to say, this is a much more visual appealing work.

However, not all of Rivette’s experiments work with 100% success. As vague and irrelevant as the “mystery” is, it does begin to take center stage towards the film’s conclusion. The reoccurring dream sequences are a bit overused as well. Essentially, they amount to nothing more than the two principle characters running around in specific locations; Ben in a forest and Leo on the beach. Aside from those things, the experience is cohesive. At the risk of being vague, the film simply has enough energy to sustain itself on. There’s so much realness, for lack of a better term, that the minor drawbacks can’t even dilute the greatness. In an interview, Rivette mentioned that everyone was miserable during and the performances reflect this claim, but that only makes the few fleeting moments of happiness all the more beautiful.

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3 responses

17 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

I like this. But, at least on first viewing, I’d put this in the middle of my Rivette list. Mind you, every Rivette film I’ve seen has been very worthy (I still need to see the “short” version of Out 1).

17 06 2008
Jake Savage

The lack of English subtitles for French-speaking parts could have altered my opinion, but I have a hard time believing I’d love this any less if I knew what exactly was going on. I still have a lot of Rivette to see, but this is definitely my favorite so far. How did you see the long version of Out 1?

17 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

I’ve seen the Italian-subbed TV broadcast of Out 1.

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