Haut bas fragile (1995)

12 10 2008

This film is a sprawling, multi-character, senseless piece of cinematic beauty, or in other words, a typical Rivette movie. There’s so much stuff going on here, yet so little of it makes sense. Not a problem with me, as I’ve come to expect this sense of mystery from Rivette. There is one particularly unique (in comparison to the rest of Rivette’s work, that is) element here and that is the 1950s Hollywood musical sensibility that elegantly drifts in and out of the three main stories. It’s jarring, no doubt, but it’s something to separate the film from Rivette’s other efforts.

There are three stories here, and each follows a woman that is either trying to separate from her past and come in touch with it. Two of the women, Ninon and Louise, cross paths on occasion but it never amounts to anything substantial. The stories all share supporting characters, but not in a “converging lives” structure that has dominated Hollywood in recent years. Somehow, it’s almost as though Rivette is deconstructing the narrative structure while simultaneously anticipating it. I realize how laughably pretentious this all sounds, but its not as though Rivette does this in a cerebral manner. After all, musicals are anything but intellectual.

While Godard does (and has done) “deconstructions” his approach is the polar opposite. Godard, in his infinite wisdom, poses questions in the most academic of ways. Rivette, though, almost makes his questions fun. If Godard’s essays are advanced learning than Rivette’s are introductions for toddlers. That sounds a bit like an insult, but I guess it is just another way of pointing out Rivette’s playfulness, which is very prominent here. In this film in particular, it’s as though Rivette has taken the advice from a screenwriting teacher and has performed all the technical things, such as having a structure. But, he has also cynically neglected what screenwriting lessons imply. Saying Rivette’s films are plotless isn’t entirely true, but they aren’t carried, driven, or even built around a story.

So instead, we have many sequences here of characters carrying out seemingly irrelevant tasks and displaying gestures devoid of drama. I guess plenty of other “minimalists” do this, but no one does it like Rivette. This isn’t even implying that he is the best, though he may very well be, but he is most unique in doing so. For example, no one makes sequences of characters walking as exciting as Rivette does. In my mind, it is our human nature to constantly assess meaningless gestures as being something deeper. I’m not entirely sure why that makes Rivette’s unique form of cinema such a joy to watch, but it still is.

This desire to constantly “understand” the meaningless or simple plays a large part in this film in particular, as many of the characters deal with the same exact problem. In Le Pont du Nord, for example, there are characters trying to make sense of a crudely drawn map but it is a bit different in this film. The issues seem a bit more personal and even more complex. Take Ida, for example, who is haunted by a song that she has known since her childhood but she cannot find any information about it. The thing is, the song’s singer, Sarah, may or may not be Ida’s mother. Melodramatic on paper (there’s even a scene where Ida suggests she heard the song in the womb) but it nothing becomes of it. The ending, which is one of most purely Rivette-ian moments of his entire career, shows Ida holding a conversation with Sarah, but nothing happens, and the film ends on Ida walking into the streets.

I personally haven’t had the time to put the pieces together, but I honestly don’t want to, in this case. The joy of Rivette’s film, no matter which film it is, comes from what we don’t know. Characters interact, and they seem to have a history, but we are never told to what extent these people know each other. As a result, character psychology comes from one’s own subconscious, developed not only from characters in other Rivette films, but characters from our own life. For as gimmicky as this film seems, it is one of the most purely self-reflexive things I’ve ever seen, which is a great accomplishment since it probably wasn’t Rivette’s intention to begin with.

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2 responses

14 10 2008
Michael Kerpan

Another one of my favorite Rivette films. Did you see this with subtitles? (I never have).

15 10 2008
Jake Savage

Yup, custom subtitles strike again!

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