martes, 29 de septiembre de 2009


What do you think of the conductor Hans Richter’s remark, as quoted by Karl Böhm in his book My Life: “When you get up on the podium, you either know what you’re doing, or you’ll never know it!”?

That reminds me of myself, because I started out as a self-taught conductor; later I studied with Charles Bruck at the Pierre Monteux Conducting School. I learned a lot there, but personal experience is much more valuable. Beating time is easy for a conductor. What’s most important is interpretation—being in the spirit of the work as much as possible, and finding the right tempo. But I want to emphasize that too much respect for the composer can be just as bad as too much disrespect, or a lack of confidence in the score. A conductor should serve the work, and have a natural and intuitive way of directing—this makes the interpretation freer. Fantasy and imagination should give an impression of spontaneity and constantly allow new discoveries to be made in the score. The powers of suggestion and persuasion are even stronger that way.

What kind of relationships do you have with musicians?

Really accomplishing something depends on a very basic understanding between the conductor, the musicians and the singers. This is the main condition for creating a musically unified and homogenous production. The conductor should be immersed in the work and know it inside out in order to maintain cohesion in the orchestra, adjust the sound of the combined vocal lines, and help the singers to realize their full potential. Compared to some of my colleagues, I seem quite calm and easygoing. But that’s only a facade. I’m not just saying this to be polite; I’m actually someone who’s quite turbulent inside. I’ve played in orchestras and know what musicians go through. I try to be close to the musicians I work with, be part of the group, and not seem like a star who’s above it all. I need to trust musicians. I also know that when things aren’t going well, you have to fix them. I can be quite difficult, and when I’ve tried to overcome problems and see there’s no hope of improvement, I can decide to part company with someone. This doesn’t happen often, but just as in other groups there have been crises and scandals. This surprises people because they expect me to be nice and indulgent. But a conductor holds all the reins, and he owes it to himself to be demanding.

You founded the Musiciens du Louvre in 1982, and since 1996 you’ve been associated with the Grenoble Chamber Orchestra. Before widening your musical horizons, you concentrated on an essentially French repertoire from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Grenoble group and I have had some wonderful musical experiences together. The personnel of the orchestra now turns over every four or five years. Musicians come and go and we’ve been able to maintain a certain amount of consistency. Our roots are in Grenoble now. We were able to save a modern orchestra that was in ruins. We ran the risk of keeping eight salaried permanent musicians in the group, and it has really paid off; the orchestra is stable now. We gave baroque instruments to the Grenoble musicians, and they were trained and supported by other musicians who had worked with me for a long time. Les Musiciens du Louvre and the Grenoble Orchestra are an unusual combination among baroque groups. They work well together because of the cohesiveness between the two ensembles. Having a rehearsal hall with marvelous acoustics in Grenoble is a dream come true for me. Our greatest success there is to have built up a faithful and enthusiastic public. We’re all happy to be living in this cocoon—it’s a base that allows us to go anywhere we like.

Were you satisfied with your experience as musical director of the Flanders Opera?

I could have gone on there; we were performing works that were very complementary to productions I do elsewhere. We were mainly performing romantic operas and symphonies, but I didn’t have enough power, and felt there wasn’t enough confidence in me. It’s often true in opera houses that the musical director is just a pawn, someone who beats time and keeps the orchestra going. But what I’m interested in is keeping music going in the orchestra! My passion for the theater is just as strong as my passion for music, and makes me want to direct my own theater with complete freedom, both in terms of the music and the mise en scène. I don’t plan to give up this dream, and I know how to wait. I’m almost as much at home on stage as I am with a score. Drama and music should merge as one in order to be convincing to the public and lead it to the heart of the music.

The dramatic structure of opera fascinates you as much as the musical composition. The two aspects cannot be dissociated. Did you experience this cohesiveness when you directed La Belle Hélène at the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris last autumn?

I enjoyed Offenbach’s opera buffa immensely. It was a new production with Laurent Pelly, my favorite producer. We had already worked together on Orphée aux Enfers and Rameau’s Platée. We’re a real team. He deals with the music and I deal with the mise en scène—we’re always minding each other’s business! He has such a sense of comedy, a sense of humor that’s not vulgar in any way. An opera producer has to trust the music and turn its theatrical nature to his advantage. And Offenbach is really my cup of tea: what an incredible guy! It’s time people understood—Tales of Hoffmann aside —that he wasn’t a composer who didn’t orchestrate his works, who wrote pianos scores that had to be rewritten and arranged for orchestra. He really was the “Mozart of the Champs Elysées”, as he was known. He wrote for a delicious little orchestra, a handful of chamber musicians. The problem is that he was badly edited, badly served. Orchestral scores full of mistakes were around for years. Bären-reiter, who published Mozart and Glück, have decided to bring out a nearly complete edition with help from a serious musicologist. This will make it easier to see his refined orchestral writing. Offenbach was the musical director at the Comédie française, and there are parodies of Lully’s music in Orphée aux Enfers. In a way he was a baroque composer.

Your eclectic choices have taken you away from the baroque aesthetic. Your curiosity and wish to discover other musical continents have incited you to perform contemporary works in your concerts. Even if 20th century music has been preoccupied with intellectual research and dry technique, don’t you think today’s composers have become aware of the human dimensions music can aspire to?

Today’s research is like a labyrinth of different tendencies and diverging paths... I like several composers; they’ve received both good and bad press: John Adams in the U.S. and Olivier Greif in France. John Adams’ Nativity, which just had its Paris première, is one of the most powerful oratorios the 20th century has produced. And what an orchestra! I recently conducted Olivier Greif’s Cello Concerto at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, and intend to do it again—it’s like an exotic and profound voyage that really touched me and spoke to me.

Your special sensitivity to the human dimension in music probably responds well to Monteverdi’s world. Last summer in Aix-en-Provence you directed L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Monteverdi’s last opera. His writing expresses feelings and—through different kinds of music —reveals connections between music and the poetry of the emotions.

All through his life Monteverdi wanted to get closer to the human dimension. In L’Incoronazione di Poppea he chose a subject from Roman history— Nero’s story—but it wasn’t in order to compose a historic opera. What he wanted was to express passions—joy and sorrow, pleasure and cruelty—in a way that had never been done before. L’Incoronazione di Poppea was written for the San Cassiano theatre in Venice, which is an intimate setting. We had to double certain instruments for the big outdoor theatre in Aix, to thicken the sound. For instance, we used two harps instead of one, two gambas, a lirone, a bass, several keyboards...

This freedom reinforced the momentum of Monteverdi’s style, his color, without reducing the extremely poetic quality of his work, without spoiling his magic. Could we say that the musical and dramatic unity, which reaches a high degree of perfection in L’ Incoronazione di Poppea, was a precursor of operas of the future?

This mysterious work dating from the end of Monteverdi’s life was a sign that opera was changing and would no longer only be for the aristocracy, but for a larger public. The comic scenes, popular songs and love duets—which weren’t all written by Monteverdi— alternate with tragic moments, as in real life. People still have quite conventional ideas about this work, and it’s hard to fight the clichés—for instance that Nero should be a macho emperor, a cardboard figure wearing a laurel wreath and sticking his chest out—but the role wasn’t even written for a tenor! It’s often hard for people to understand that a woman can sing Nero and interpret him as a rascal who has his dreams, flares up, stamps with rage... as Anne-Sofie von Otter does so well.

L’ Incoronazione is a dreadful story. Two depraved moments stand out: when Poppea violently rejects Oho, and when Nero hears “you allow your dear Seneca to manipulate you; it’s not you who governs Rome.”

Poppea is a sort of Lolita who leads people into catastrophe, but never on purpose, simply as a game and through her “animal” interest. The way she speaks with Arnalta, her nurse, also shows her juvenile nature.

You are going to conduct Ariodante at the Opéra Garnier in Paris in a few weeks— you’ll be involved with two things you love: the theatre and Handel. You recorded this work a few years ago for Archiv. Beethoven thought Handel was “the greatest composer who ever lived”.

Handel has been rediscovered in our time. A real recognition of his musical genius—which was admired by composers from Mozart to Schubert to Liszt—is taking place. He explored every musical resource with such dynamism, purpose and vitality that his work fills me with energy myself. He wrote music of great effect, that strikes and moves people immediately, with the simplest means. His work is brilliant and sums up the beauty of the baroque period. Purely technical virtuosity and intellectual elaboration were of no interest to him, and even bored him. He composed in a spontaneous and exalted way; his music is a generous gesture from himself to others. Handel has a confidence in life that we need today. Anne-Sofie von Otter and I will be working together again at the Opéra Garnier, to perform one of the greatest successes in Italian opera. The most striking thing about the work, even more than the story, is the musical language of love, and Handel’s search for musical means to express psychological truths... the thoughts and secret feelings of the characters. The duets are sublime—not only for the emotions they call up, but also for the extremely economical vocal lines that actually show Handel’s great skill in composition and his constantly imaginative mind—the discoveries he made are all the more amazing because they aren’t obvious. In Ariodante, it’s as if the characters write their own music.

Handel loved the voice and the stage. He was a theatre director in London. But he also achieved great intensity in his oratorios. La Resurrezione, an oratorio he composed in Rome at age 23, is quite close to opera. He was already showing himself to be a man of the theatre.

He used the libretto to his advantage, on one hand to dramatize the conflict between the Angel of Light and Lucifer, and on the other hand in the trio made up of Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleophas and Saint John. The whole score was written with great care. Everything was very precisely done, very elaborate. In using strong contrasts, he created striking and appealing orchestral and vocal color, with new sonorities and combinations of timbres. The score included little-known instruments in Rome at the time—the gamba, the theorbo and the archlute. Every number has its own orchestra! It’s like a stained glass window—a hundred colors for every subject!

The descending melodic line of the first part contrasts with the ascending line of the resurrection.

Everything comes together for a majestic effect and shows the power of the music. It’s important to respect this work’s score—it’s the most varied Handel ever wrote in terms of instrumentation. Adding timpani or trombones, as was done in the past, seems useless to me, and even unreasonable in such a detailed score—the most detailed we have from Handel.

Opera, which evolved through Monteverdi, was brought to France by Italian musicians such as Caccini, Luigi Rossi and Cavalli, who was invited to Paris by Mazarin. But it was Lully who created the first truly French opera with Cadmus et Hermione.

If you want to talk about French opera, I have to admit that I like nothing better than bringing French musical heritage to life before a French audience. I love being at the Paris Opera, in front of two thousand people, showing them what was done two centuries ago. Exploring this forgotten repertoire is enormously exciting to me. But of course I’m not the only one doing it...

From Lully to Rameau, French opera had its own identity derived from court ballet blended with a sung dramatic plot, and based on Venetian opera and classical tragedy. Lully and his librettist Quinault achieved a unique mix of music and declamation. Don’t you think that Rameau —whose Dardanus and Platée you’ve conducted—wrote music in the same brilliant line as Lully? You talk about Rameau’s “musical hurricane” in the liner notes published with your recording of Dardanus on the Archiv label.

Even if Rameau can be thought of as a descendent of Lully, he was a profound innovator in terms of his orchestration and composition, which is full of harmonic innovation. He gave French opera density and complexity that hadn’t been there up to that time. His abilities as an orchestrator and a symphonist are so clear. He wrote in every opera genre: tragédie en musique with Hippolyte et Aricie, opéra-ballet with Les Indes galantes, comédie-lyrique with Platée—in this work he shows he’s capable of an irony and a cruel, lucid humor which have no equivalent anywhere.
Mondonville also thrilled me, when I “discovered” Titon et l’Aurore. He was a French composer who helped the French side to triumph in the War of the Buffons—with one hundred percent Italian music, at least as far as the orchestral writing is concerned. This is the kind of discovery I’d like to make better known in France. Ten years ago I recorded Alycone, a lyric masterpiece by Marin Marais, and I would very much like to stage it. The work still isn’t sufficiently well known.

In order to perform this repertory, you had not only to train musicians and singers, but also expose artists to baroque aesthetics. What role has the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles—with which you’ve been associated—played in this?

At the beginning there was a handful of young singers, who came for two-week workshops three or four times a year. We didn’t have the financial means to take our research further. I think we helped people discover their aptitude for this music by teaching them the basics of baroque style, but there are certain things you can only learn through performance. I took part in the Rameau, Campra, Lully, Charpentier and Brossards workshops. After that, the repertory wasn’t my own, but I hope to return. I was invited to conduct Desmarest’s Didon, but at the time I didn’t care for the libretto. I would have prefered his Iphigénie. I hope to persuade the Centre to do workshops on Marin Marais and even Grétry.

How do you account for the interest in baroque music today?

It would be interesting to see in-depth sociological studies on this evolution in taste, and this has actually begun. My opinion is that we’re living in a time of memory. People are interested in everything, and are learning in particular to use the past to shed light on the future. Just look at how successful exhibitions of ancient art are. As for baroque music, it’s a modern phenomenon. But this music was also played quite a bit in the early twentieth century, and even before that Debussy, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and especially Brahms tried to keep the music of 18th century composers alive. The popularization of certain forgotten instruments, like the harpsichord by Wanda Landowska, helped in the revival of this period.

You spontaneously say that you like everything. I’d like to ask you about Gluck, one of the many composers whose works you have conducted. Do you think he revived French tragédie lyrique as it had been conceived from Lully to Rameau?

That’s an interesting topic. Gluck has been the bête noire of people who love baroque music for a long time. He’s a sort of magpie who borrowed styles from everyone. His aesthetic and his music are so simple, even sometimes so naive, that—and this is what he is criticized for—with such natural and simple means, he attained a certain dramatic and theatrical strength. We’ve talked about respecting works, but in this case you have to be a bit aggressive and shake up the music for it to work. He was a bit of a bumpkin, quite Teutonic, but at the same time like a chameleon—like many composers at that time. They adapted to the style and taste of the countries where they lived. Gluck was a genius of a chameleon. When you listen to the Italian operas of his first period, you hear elegant music, heroic music with touches of genius, but the works are never sublime. In Orfeo and Alceste, Italian works Gluck wrote in Vienna, he recreates the universe of the French tragédie lyrique. He comprehended the mysteries of this genre, which was still popular in his time.

Declamation based on the speech of actors who interpreted Racine and la Champmeslé—recitation which was amplified through vocal music—was the real triumph of Lully and his librettist Quinault. Was Gluck aware of this music when he was composing his own operas?

We know he had librettos of French operas in his library, and that aesthetes like his own librettist, Calza-bigi, placed French classicism higher than Italian bel canto. It was in this spirit that he reset Lully and Quinault’s Armide. Gluck was incredibly successful in resetting a libretto written 92 years earlier. He’s an important composer because he swept away the erudite work of Rameau—which is exactly what people reproach him for. He created marvellous declamation, a torrent of music; he managed to concentrate emotion with very simple means. It’s true that his music gives a “galant” impression. If Orphée’s air “J’ai perdu mon Euridice” isn’t sung passionately, it comes off as terribly naive and insipid. Gluck needs to be brought right up to romanticism. Wagner liked him and often conducted his works. On the other hand, he adapted his writing to Parisian singers who had broken with the style of Rameau, Lully and Campra. His favorite singer, Rosalie Levasseur, who was interpreting dramatic roles in baroque operas 15 years before Gluck arrived in Paris... well, he trained her in the declamatory style and made her into the premier Gluck singer, an authentic “French soprano”. It’s this type of voice that fits his music, not the sort of enormous mezzo or Wagnerian soprano that was imposed on him for so long.

You’ve conducted Idomeneo and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and you’ll be doing Le nozze di Figaro at the Aix-en-Provence festival next summer. Will it be your first experience with this work?

No, in fact, I conducted Figaro for the first time in Toronto, in English, before I did Idomeneo at the Bastille Opera in 1996. I fell in love with the score of Idomeneo, which foretells a new style for Mozart, one he never looked back from. Idomeneo is based on opera seria, but transforms the genre by giving an unusual role to the chorus, which shows his admiration for the French tragédie lyrique we just mentioned. This score can be considered as part of the Gluck trend, but there again, Mozart went beyond it in his work on the orchestration. The orchestra is truly like one of the characters: it strengthens the dramatic unity and expresses a very personal lyricism. Mozart showed himself to be both a subtle psychologist and a man of the theater, all in a very original musical way.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail is considered to be one of the five high points of Mozart the dramatist; Figaro is the second of these. Does the exotic use of “Turkish music” mask the tragic situation?

Die Entführung at the Salzburg Festival was a real adventure. Gérard Mortier, the Festival director, was looking for an unusual conductor. You had to be, to accept to be part of a team with a producer who had no experience with opera, who gave the mise en scène an Oriental-Palestinian flavor, and who added Arabian music which was then mixed up with Mozart’s music! My taste for fantasy allowed me to confront an audience that is used to highly traditional staging of Mozart’s operas. Some said it was sacrilegious. But I don’t feel the work’s serious and humane sides were crushed beneath the weight of these Oriental influences. There are passages of dazzling virtuosity—Osmin’s and Constanze’s airs, for example. It’s a masterpiece from beginning to end.

This humanism reaches tragic heights in Figaro. Opera buffa is more conducive to joking, but in this case the music is used to express deep feelings.

Mozart translated the emotions that underlie human relations—the longing and agony that animate people—into music. I’m really looking forward to Aix. I’ve been very spoiled with Mozart from the beginning; I’ve directed extraordinary works. It would be hard now to do earlier works like La finta semplice or Ascanio in Alba, even though the scores are quite interesting.

To conclude our interview, how would you define your ambiguous rapport with music?

Ambiguous? Yes, that’s the word! It’s hard to simultaneously respect the text, be free in one’s interpretation and precise in its execution and also remain... ambiguous. Especially in the theater. Music of the theater is ambiguous. I hope I don’t betray it.

lunes, 28 de septiembre de 2009


Excerpts from Jacques Rivette Interview - L'art secret
Jean-Marc Lalanne and Jean-Baptiste Morain
translated by Craig Keller and Joseph Coppola

This translation originally appeared in part at Cinemasparagus. An additional section was translated by Joseph Coppola and appeared at My Gleanings.


LALANNE/MORAIN: Is the reception that your films receive something that still burns you up? Were you hurt by the bad reception for Histoire de Marie et Julien?

RIVETTE: You always wish there were more of a response. But often it comes five, ten years down the road. As it turns out, for Marie et Julien, I'm starting to get a sense these days of some change of heart. But films today have a completely different life with DVD, which I think is the greatest. First of all because that's practically the only way I watch films anymore.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Which films have you seen recently on DVD?

RIVETTE: I've been really disappointed by the new films I've seen. I'm pretty appalled by the current American cinema, after having thought so highly of it. Scorsese has disappointed me a lot. I think that Coppola is a much more interesting filmmaker. When you see One from the Heart again, you're really struck by a very strong desire for cinema. I'm often struck today by the way in which filmmakers build this image of what their cinema is, and then are no longer willing to let go of it. Even filmmakers that I've liked a lot, like Clint Eastwood, have disappointed me. I couldn't bring myself to go see his two latest films. (1)


LALANNE/MORAIN: Were the cells of cinephiles in the 50s, and notably that of Cahiers, similar to secret societies?

RIVETTE: The secret society, that's always the other people... It wasn't an accident if there were conflicts with other groups, other magazines, such as Positif. But yes, of course...

LALANNE/MORAIN: The story of the cinephilia of the 50s, a foundation, nearly mythological, seen from today, has something of the novelistic about it, almost as if out of Balzac. Did you live this, at that time?

RIVETTE: We were all very surprised by what took place, by what they called the New Wave. No one from among us, whether it was François (Truffaut), Jean-Luc (Godard), Chabrol or Rohmer anticipated that it would take that dimension. Above all, this verified, after the fact, the appropriateness of what we all thought and what François wrote in his famous article, "A Certain Tendency of French Cinema," which nevertheless was an absolute rupture. Cahiers was thus pointed to by the institutions of criticism and film.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Can you tell us about your encounter with the Cahiers group?

RIVETTE: The great difference with the Positif critics, for example, was that we all wanted to make films. When I met François, Jean-Luc and the others on my arrival from Rouen, we would meet each other at the Ciné mathque française on the Avenue Messine where we went just about every night. Already, what differentiated us from other cinephiles, even if we were all snot-nosed kids (I was 21 and François 17), was that we wanted to make films. We had no idea at all how, I, for one, knew absolutely no one. François had just been released from military prison thanks to André Bazin and we fell in together right off because we wanted to become filmmakers. i was enrolled in the College of Arts but I did not have the least intention of pursuing these studies, it was just to be able to benefit from the advantages of the status of student.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Does the desire to make films date from your adolescence in Rouen?

RIVETTE: I retell this often (laughs). The guilty party is Jean Cocteau. The determining factor was the release of La Belle et la Bête, and, most of all, the publication of his diary of the shoot. I had read a lot of Cocteau, whom I liked a lot. At that time, I didn't much know what I wanted to do later on, and when i read this diary -- when he recounted the work with the crew, all the problems that he met up with, his skin disease, Jean Marais' wound, and so on -- I immediately knew that this was what I wanted to do. I told myself that cinema was a place where things happened, where one debated with people, where one invented and tried things, whether they worked or not...

LALANNE/MORAIN: You brought to Cahiers the relish for interviews and the idea of going over to the film set...

RIVETTE: That was most of all an excuse to see what happened on a film set. I went over to the one for Ophuls' Madame de..., I stayed there two or three days in a corner, I watched Ophuls work, Danielle Darrieux, but in the end I did not write anything. When it comes to the interviews, that came from the great vogue, at that time, of very long radio interviews with writers: Gide, Léataud and others. And there was Claudel, who edited the text of these interviews for Gallimard, and who, in principle, corrected nothing. I was leafing through this book when it just came out, and François and I said to each other, "This is what we should be doing!" And that is why we went with our tape recorder to see Jacques Becker.


LALANNE/MORAIN: L'amour fou is a rather overwhelming film about the complexity, the instability of a couple's connections. But that question disappeared in your cinema, up until the two most recent films, Histoire de Marie et Julien and Ne touchez pas la hache where it becomes totally central again. Again we find the same, very naked pain, tied to love.

RIVETTE: (A long silence.) Yes. (Laughs.) But no, I'll respond. I shot L'amour fou telling [Georges de] Beauregard, the producer, that I was going to make a film about jealousy, which wasn't entirely true. We shot it in five weeks, under very tight conditions. The film was marked by what I was discovering at the time in the theater, namely the performances of Marc'O, and his actors... Jean Eustache was doing the editing on Les Idoles (2) but also for the documentary on Jean Renoir, Jean Renoir, le patron, that I made in '67 for the Cinéastes de notre temps series. I remember long discussions that we had on the question of true and false. It followed that the basic principle of the cinema should be reality, and what's more, truth. What I was opposed to was the idea that there were no truth other than fiction. In a certain way, L'amour fou is a fiction-film relative to the sense that it proposed the truth-film: La Maman et la putain. The film is a direct autobiography, all the characters on-screen were literally people I knew from the period. Jean was writing with the will to be utterly faithful to the biographical material, to find the most exact equivalence to it. In Une sale histoire this very volition becomes the film's subject.

LALANNE/MORAIN: In Out 1, that 12-hour-long cult-film, you added to Marc'O's troupe two slightly younger individuals, invented by two of your associates in the New Wave: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto. It's really a great film about the '68 youth-culture without ever coming right out and saying so...

RIVETTE: Yes, I shot two years after '68 and, without ever making reference to the events, the characters never stop referring to what happened two years prior. As for Jean-Pierre's and Juliet's characters, they absolutely do not comprehend the world in which they're evolving. But around them, the secret society of the Thirteen (Lonsdale, Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) never stops commenting upon what's happened. For me, it's clear, the film speaks of '68, or rather the immediate post-'68.

LALANNE/MORAIN: You were the only filmmaker of the New Wave to establish a bridge with the New York avant-garde of the '60s, and Warhol in particular...

RIVETTE: In the '60s, I kept going to the Cinémathèque. Which François, for example, no longer did. It's there that I discovered the New York avant-garde films. I remember discovering The Chelsea Girls, which impressed me a great deal.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Did you meet Warhol?

RIVETTE: Once, at La Coupole, early in the '70s. I was meeting up with Bulle and we were in the same group of people. But he was very hemmed-in; spoke little; looked like a sphinx.

LALANNE/MORAIN: You shot Merry-Go-Round, with Joe Dallessandro, thinking of Warhol?

RIVETTE: I found him magnificent in Morrissey's trilogy, Flesh, Heat, and Trash. But the idea was Maria Schneider's, who really wanted him to be her partner, because she had met him in Rome, I think... The shoot was very difficult. Maria wasn't doing very well; was in a physical state that didn't make work very easy; she was sleeping all the time or not at all; -- without going overboard, I felt like Billy Wilder waiting for Marilyn [Monroe] to get ready without ever being certain that she'd actually show up. Very quickly, Joe understood that he'd get nothing out of this film. The relation with the production was very tense, we had a lot of illness crop up at the onset of the shoot. But he had a kindness to him, and an impeccable seriousness. Total respect for Joe Dallessandro.

LALANNE/MORAIN: After that film, you went on to Le Pont du Nord, which takes a hard look at the end of the '70s and the squashing of the utopias of '68.

RIVETTE: We shot that film in November of '80. At the time, we thought that Giscard had every chance to win a second term. You don't remember the end of the Giscard years with any certainty, but it really wasn't anything to pin a medal to. Ministers were committing suicide, were getting killed leaving their homes, all followed by a series of scandals, there was the affaire des diamants, of "sniffer planes" for locating oil despoits... Giscard's last year in power was delirious. Le Pont du Nord is a slightly polemical film about this deep malaise, this asphyxiated feeling that belonged to the France of the late '70s. But the film was released a few months after Franç ois Mitterand's victory. It was therefore already out-of-date, historically.

LALANNE/MORAIN: The passing of the baton between an individual contemporary to '68 such as Bulle Ogier and a succeeding generation that has no memory of the events, embodied by Pascale Ogier and her punk petit soldat silhouette, is tremendous...

RIVETTE: The idea was to refer to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Passing from the Parisian quartiers outward to the peripheral areas, within those zones that are slightly uncertain, but without ever leaving Paris. We also wanted to show everything that was in the process of being transformed, under construction.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Does the current presidential race interest you?

RIVETTE: It's amusing. If you can't laugh at it, then what will you ever laugh at. No, frankly, I don't have any big thing to say about it.

LALANNE/MORAIN: At what point your films took account of the political mutations inside of France has already been discussed somewhat. What do you think of the films that were speaking more directly about politics, the utopias of collective cinema around the time of '68, Jean-Luc Godard's Dziga-Vertov group?

RIVETTE: The films that you're speaking of were collective in the same way that the regime in Peking was a democracy!

LALANNE/MORAIN: In your connection with improvisation, you've always put into place a collective practice, whereby the actor takes part in the direction...

RIVETTE: In certain films, that's true. None of my films were built according to the same rules of the game, even if I'd resorted several times to a large degree of improvisation, where the actors in part had to invent what they were doing, what they were saying, and sometimes contributing all the way up to the story of the movie. Sometimes this got very risky, but each time in a different way. I've often taken the risk of keeping my mouth shut on my films, but never the same way twice. But in any case, I think that cinema is always collective, even in Bresson.

LALANNE/MORAIN: That's not what Anne Wiazemsky wrote in her recent novel...

RIVETTE: I've read that too, I really liked it. Still, we see that the shoot is somewhat collective. Sometimes, the donkey just would not respect what it was that Bresson wanted... (Laughs.)

LALANNE/MORAIN: Why do the credits of your films always indicate: "direction: Jacques Rivette" ["mise en scène: Jacques Rivette"] rather than "a film by"?

RIVETTE: I detest the formulation "a film by". A film is always at least fifteen people. I don't like "réalisation" very much either, which seems to me very portentous, maybe because its root is "reality." Mise en scène is a rapport with the actors, and the communal work is set with the first shot. What's important for me in a film is that it be alive, that it be imbued with presence, which is basically the same thing. And that this presence, inscribed within the film, possesses a form of magic. There's something profoundly mysterious in this. It's an alchemy that one procures, or does not. Early in the shoot, anything's still possible, but once you've made two or three steps, already you have to follow the course that the film has taken. But that's what's interesting. It's a collective work, but one wherein there's a secret, too. For that matter, the actor has his secrets as well -- of which the director is the spectator.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Then is the cinema, for you, a collective work between people who have secrets?

RIVETTE: Yes. It's a little closer to that. And I think that the story of a film always ends when you talk about it.


1. Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (both 2006)

2. The Idols (dir. Marc'O, 1968) starring Bulle Ogier, Pierre Clémenti, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, and Michèle Moretti

Originally appeared in Les Inrockuptibles, March 30, 2007. Translated by Craig Keller and Joseph Coppola.


Comments at the 2007 Berlinale
Jacques Rivette

The following has been dictated from a live English translator.

FIRST QUESTION: This film in a way is the end of a cycle because we had Out 1 sort of as an inspiration for The Story of the Thirteen by Balzac. Now he's here again this time with a story out of the cycle which is is very close to the original. Mr. Rivette, could you tell us a little about your passion for Balzac and maybe also about Balzac -- what sort of an impact Balzac has had on your career?

JACQUES RIVETTE: Well that's not one question, it's at least three or four. I'll try not to answer them all at once but perhaps one after the other. In the case of this film, Ne touchez pas la hache, I hadn't prepared at all to adapt Balzac's novella as close as I had done in other cases but be it Out or La Belle Noiseuse; Balzac has always been very important for me. It was a little bit of a pretext for this film but here it's a different story because I did not start with the idea of having a new adaptation of Balzac -- sorry this answer is getting quite long but it's a bit difficult to get it otherwise -- after the film (The Story of) Marie and Julien I felt like doing a film which would have a contemporary story. We had Next Year in Paris, then I wanted to have Guillaume in the film as a partner to Jeanne. This was a contemporary film, rather close to Out and so we started with Martine Marignac and we're wondering how to shoot this film and I thought that this project, I realized nobody was interested in the project. No French or foreign television channels -- nobody, absolutely nobody was interested in financing the film and I thought, 'OK if nobody wants to do this story, OK, I'll do something else.' But there was one thing that I was very interested in and that was having this film for Jeanne and Guillaume and I really regretted the fact I couldn't see them acting together in a rather dramatic story. So with Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent we tried to find a different scenario, where we could have these two actors interacting and working together, and so we spent two weeks reading universal literature to find a good project here for these two actors. We had Henry James for a long time but he absolutely refused to take part in our project so in the end it was Balzac. (1) So, within three nights we wrote a new story, he rather wrote the story La Duchesse de Langeais and we used it and it wasn't really our original plan but that's just what happened. So we have this Balzac cycle because that's just the way it worked... pieces coming to us...


Maybe I haven't expressed myself clearly. When I was preparing a different film I was persuaded, I was convinced that Jeanne needed an actor acting with her as strong and imaginative as herself, and therefore I needed to have Jeanne and Guilluame together and that's what I felt like doing. When we talked about Paris Next Year, which was my other project, then again I can only say that it was Balzac that manifested himself to us. I thought I should keep to the text because I think it's an excellent piece of art. I've forgotten the beginning of my answer. Balzac arrived here in this project very late -- at a very late stage because I already decided I had a film with Jeanne and Guillaume and afterwards then, of course, we worked on Balzac's text with Pascal and Christine. When writing the screenplay we thought, 'What should we keep in, what should we have outside, what titles would we have in between.' And so on -- and, there you are. We just tried to stay as closely as possible to Balzac's story, and to his way of telling the story. And I needn't explain how different it is to write or to shoot a film, that's clear. But what we did try to do with Pascal and Christine, and also with Jeanne and Guilluame, was to try and find the elements that give Balzac's writing such strength. Sometimes he has very long and complex phrases, but they are very full of ideas, and we wanted to keep this supple way of writing, and also this continuous way of writing that sometimes, of course, is also very violent because sometimes there's no other way of expressing oneself. So we tried to keep to Balzac as best we could with our own means.

FIFTH QUESTION: You talk about keeping close to Balzac's text. Now why did you choose the title? Was that because of this worrying aspect of love?

RIVETTE: No, no, that was to keep close to Balzac because when he wrote this story, which he published first in a magazine and then in a volume, that was the original title. So I reused the original title. It was Ne touchez pas la hache. Balzac only decided on a different title much much later in his career when he started republishing La Comedie humaine and these other stories where he links one text with another, and of course we weren't doing La Comedie humaine, we didn't have the time. We had just this one part, a very precise part, which is a story in itself and Balzac gave the title, Ne touchez pas la hache, when it was on its own. So that's what we decided to use, the original title.


1. An interesting comment between the first and second paragraphs of this transcription is Jacques Rivette's statement: 'We shoot films when they're ready to be with us.' A continuation of a philosophy he's has developed since making the documentary Jean Renoir, le Patron. (For a good starting point on the fleshing out of some of these ideas, refer to the interview Time Overflowing on our site.) One senses a relaxed attitude when Rivette says this, as if it's been said so many times before, but when Bulle Ogier was asked about working with Rivette on his earlier films and working with him now she stated: 'He was very exact, very ready to help with the photography, with the actors and even helping the words, the diction; which I'm sure is different from what it was with with L'amour fou and Celine et Julie. It was quite different at the time.' Not contradictory statements but interesting side by side. Ogier followed her statement with: 'I don't know whether I've made a mistake here, you should ask Jacques.' Which reminded me of her in Claire Denis's documentary on Rivette, Jacques Rivette, Le veilleur, where she said that she could tell us some things about Jacques but it would be indiscreet to talk of them aloud. (RW)

Comments are from a press conference at the 2007 Berlinale, where Ne touchez pas la hache premiered in February.


The Captive Lover: An interview with Jacques Rivette
Frederic Bonnaud
Translated by Kent Jones.

This translation reproduced from Senses of Cinema 16 (Sept-Oct 2001). Available online at

I guess I like a lot of directors. Or at least I try to. I try to stay attentive to all the greats and also the less-than-greats. Which I do, more or less. I see a lot of movies, and I don't stay away from anything. Jean-Luc sees a lot too, but he doesn't always stay till the end. For me, the film has to be incredibly bad to make me want to pack up and leave. And the fact that I see so many films really seems to amaze certain people. Many filmmakers pretend that they never see anything, which has always seemed odd to me. Everyone accepts the fact that novelists read novels, that painters go to exhibitions and inevitably draw on the work of the great artists who came before them, that musicians listen to old music in addition to new music... so why do people think it's strange that filmmakers -- or people who have the ambition to become filmmakers -- should see movies? When you see the films of certain young directors, you get the impression that film history begins for them around 1980. Their films would probably be better if they'd seen a few more films, which runs counter to this idiotic theory that you run the risk of being influenced if you see too much. Actually, it's when you see too little that you run the risk of being influenced. If you see a lot, you can choose the films you want to be influenced by. Sometimes the choice isn't conscious, but there are some things in life that are far more powerful than we are, and that affect us profoundly. If I'm influenced by Hitchcock, Rossellini or Renoir without realizing it, so much the better. If I do something sub-Hitchcock, I'm already very happy. Cocteau used to say: "Imitate, and what is personal will eventually come despite yourself." You can always try.

Europa 51 (Robert Rossellini, 1952)

Every time I make a film, from Paris nous appartient through Jeanne la pucelle, I keep coming back to the shock we all experienced when we first saw Europa 51. And I think that Sandrine Bonnaire is really in the tradition of Ingrid Bergman as an actress. She can go very deep into Hitchcock territory, and she can go just as deep into Rossellini territory, as she already has with Pialat and Varda.

Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)

I've never had any affinity for the overhyped mythology of the bad boy, which I think is basically phony. But just by chance, I saw a little of L'Armée des ombres on TV recently, and I was stunned. Now I have to see all of Melville all over again: he's definitely someone I underrated. What we have in common is that we both love the same period of American cinema -- but not in the same way. I hung out with him a little in the late '50s; he and I drove around Paris in his car one night. And he delivered a two-hour long monologue, which was fascinating. He really wanted to have disciples and become our "Godfather": a misunderstanding that never amounted to anything.

The Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1948)

The poster for Secret Défense reminded us of Lang. Every once in a while during the shoot, I told myself that our film had a slim chance of resembling Lang. But I never set up a shot thinking of him or looking to imitate him. During the editing (which is when I really start to see the film), I saw that it was Hitchcock who had guided us through the writing (which I already knew) and Lang who guided us through the shooting: especially his last films, the ones where he leads the spectator in one direction before he pushes them in another completely different direction, in a very brutal, abrupt way. And then this Langian side of the film (if in fact there is one) is also due to Sandrine's gravity.

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

The most seductive one-shot in the history of movies. What can you say? It's the greatest amateur film ever made.

Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946)

I knew his name would come up sooner or later. So, I'm going to speak my peace at the risk of shocking a lot of people I respect, and maybe even pissing a lot of them off for good. His great films, like All About Eve or The Barefoot Contessa, were very striking within the parameters of contemporary American cinema at the time they were made, but now I have no desire whatsoever to see them again. I was astonished when Juliet Berto and I saw All About Eve again 25 years ago at the Cinémathèque. I wanted her to see it for a project we were going to do together before Céline and Julie Go Boating. Except for Marilyn Monroe, she hated every minute of it, and I had to admit that she was right: every intention was underlined in red, and it struck me as a film without a director! Mankiewicz was a great producer, a good scenarist and a masterful writer of dialogue, but for me he was never a director. His films are cut together any which way, the actors are always pushed towards caricature and they resist with only varying degrees of success. Here's a good definition of mise en scène -- it's what's lacking in the films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Whereas Preminger is a pure director. In his work, everything but the direction often disappears. It's a shame that Dragonwyck wasn't directed by Jacques Tourneur.

The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)

It's Chandler's greatest novel, his strongest. I find the first version of the film -- the one that's about to be shown here -- more coherent and "Hawksian" than the version that was fiddled with and came out in '46. If you want to call Secret Défense a policier, it doesn't bother me. It's just that it's a policier without any cops. I'm incapable of filming French cops, since I find them 100% un-photogenic. The only one who's found a solution to this problem is Tavernier, in L.627 and the last quarter of L'Appât. In those films, French cops actually exist, they have a reality distinct from the Duvivier/Clouzot "tradition" or all the American clichés. In that sense, Tavernier has really advanced beyond the rest of French cinema.

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

Of course we thought about it when we made Secret Défense, even if dramatically, our film is Vertigo in reverse. Splitting the character of Laure Marsac into Véronique/Ludivine solved all our scenario problems, and above all it allowed us to avoid a police interrogation scene. During the editing, I was struck by the "family resemblance" between the character of Walser and the ones played by Laurence Olivier in Rebecca and Cary Grant in Suspicion. The source for each of these characters is Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, which brings us back to Tourneur, since I Walked with a Zombie is a remake of Jane Eyre.

I could never choose one film by Hitchcock; I'd have to take the whole oeuvre (Secret Défense could actually have been called Family Plot). But if I had to choose just one film, it would be Notorious , because of Ingrid Bergman. You can see this imaginary love affair between Bergman and Hitchcock, with Cary Grant there to put things in relief. The final sequence might be the most perfect in film history, in the way that it resolves everything in three minutes -- the love story, the family story and the espionage story, in a few magnificent, unforgettable shots.

Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1966)

When Sandrine and I first started talking -- and, as usual, I didn't know a thing about the film I wanted to make -- Bernanos and Dostoyevsky came up. Dostoyevsky was a dead end because he was too Russian. But since there's something very Bernanos-like about her as an actress in the first place, I started telling her my more or less precise memories of two of his novels: A Crime, which is completely unfilmable, and A Bad Dream, a novel that he kept tucked away in his drawer, in which someone commits a crime for someone else. In A Bad Dream, the journey of the murderess was described in even greater length and detail than Sandrine's journey in Secret Défense.

It's because of Bernanos that Mouchette is the Bresson film I like the least. Diary of a Country Priest, on the other hand, is magnificent, even if Bresson left out the book's sense of generosity and charity and made a film about pride and solitude. But in Mouchette, which is Bernanos' most perfect book, Bresson keeps betraying him: everything is so relentlessly paltry, studied. Which doesn't mean that Bresson isn't an immense artist. I would place Trial of Joan of Arc right up there with Dreyer's film. It burns just as brightly.

Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pialat, 1987)

Pialat is a great filmmaker -- imperfect, but then who isn't? I don't mean it as a reproach. And he had the genius to invent Sandrine -- archeologically speaking -- for A nos amours. But I would put Van Gogh and The House in the Woods above all his other films. Because there he succeeded in filming the happiness, no doubt imaginary, of the pre-WWI world. Although the tone is very different, it's as beautiful as Renoir.

But I really believe that Bernanos is unfilmable. Diary of a Country Priest remains an exception. In Under the Sun of Satan, I like everything concerning Mouchette [Sandrine Bonnaire's character], and Pialat acquits himself honorably. But it was insane to adapt the book in the first place since the core of the narrative, the encounter with Satan, happens at night -- black night, absolute night. Only Duras could have filmed that.

Home from the Hill (Vincente Minnelli, 1959)

I'm going to make more enemies... actually the same enemies, since the people who like Minnelli usually like Mankiewicz, too. Minnelli is regarded as a great director thanks to the slackening of the "politique des auteurs." For François, Jean-Luc and me, the politique consisted of saying that there were only a few filmmakers who merited consideration as auteurs, in the same sense as Balzac or Molière. One play by Molière might be less good than another, but it is vital and exciting in relation to the entire oeuvre. This is true of Renoir, Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Dreyer, Mizoguchi, Sirk, Ozu... But it's not true of all filmmakers. Is it true of Minnelli, Walsh or Cukor? I don't think so. They shot the scripts that the studio assigned them to, with varying levels of interest. Now, in the case of Preminger, where the direction is everything, the politique works. As for Walsh, whenever he was intensely interested in the story or the actors, he became an auteur -- and in many other cases, he didn't. In Minnelli's case, he was meticulous with the sets, the spaces, the light... but how much did he work with the actors? I loved Some Came Running when it came out, just like everybody else, but when I saw it again ten years ago I was taken aback: three great actors and they're working in a void, with no one watching them or listening to them from behind the camera.

Whereas with Sirk, everything is always filmed. No matter what the script, he's always a real director. In Written On the Wind, there's that famous Universal staircase, and it's a real character, just like the one in Secret Défense. I chose the house where we filmed because of the staircase. I think that's where all dramatic loose ends come together, and also where they must resolve themselves.

That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel, 1977)

More than those of any other filmmaker, Buñuel's films gain the most on re-viewing. Not only do they not wear thin, they become increasingly mysterious, stronger and more precise. I remember being completely astonished by one Buñuel film: if he hadn't already stolen it, I would have loved to be able to call my new film The Exterminating Angel! François and I saw El when it came out and we loved it. We were really struck by its Hitchcockian side, although Buñuel's obsessions and Hitchcock's obsessions were definitely not the same. But they both had the balls to make films out of the obsessions that they carried around with them every day of their lives. Which is also what Pasolini, Mizoguchi and Fassbinder did.

Die Marquise von O... (Eric Rohmer, 1976)

It's very beautiful. Although I prefer the Rohmer films where he goes deep into emotional destitution, where it becomes the crux of the mise en scène, as in Summer, The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediathèque and in a film that I'd rank even higher, Rendez-vous in Paris. The second episode is even more beautiful than the first, and I consider the third to be a kind of summit of French cinema. It had an added personal meaning for me because I saw it in relation to La Belle noiseuse -- it's an entirely different way of showing painting, in this case the way a painter looks at canvases. If I had to choose a key Rohmer film that summarized everything in his oeuvre, it would be The Aviator's Wife. In that film, you get all the science and the eminently ethical perversity of the Moral Tales and the rest of the Comedies and Proverbs, only with moments of infinite grace. It's a film of absolute grace.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992)

I don't own a television, which is why I couldn't share Serge Daney's passion for TV series. And I took a long time to appreciate Lynch. In fact, I didn't really start until Blue Velvet. With Isabella Rossellini's apartment, Lynch succeeded in creating the creepiest set in the history of cinema. And Twin Peaks, the Film is the craziest film in the history of cinema. I have no idea what happened, I have no idea what I saw, all I know is that I left the theater floating six feet above the ground. Only the first part of Lost Highway is as great. After which you get the idea, and by the last section I was one step ahead of the film, although it remained a powerful experience right up to the end.

Nouvelle Vague (Jean-Luc Godard, 1990)

Definitely Jean-Luc's most beautiful film of the last 15 years, and that raises the bar pretty high, because the other films aren't anything to scoff at. But I don't want to talk about it... it would get too personal.

La Belle et la bête (Jean Cocteau, 1946)

Along with Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, it was the key French film for our generation -- François, Jean-Luc, Jacques Demy, myself. For me, it's fundamental. I saw La Belle et la bête in '46 and then I read Cocteau's shooting diary -- a hair-raising shoot, which hit more snags than you can imagine. And eventually, I knew the diary by heart because I re-read it so many times. That's how I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. Cocteau was responsible for my vocation as a filmmaker. I love all his films, even the less successful ones. He's just so important, and he was really an auteur in every sense of the word.

Les Enfants terribles (Jean Cocteau, 1950)

A magnificent film. One night, right after I'd arrived in Paris, I was on my way home. And as I was going up rue Amsterdam around Place Clichy, I walked right into the filming of the snowball fight. I stepped onto the court of the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre and there was Cocteau directing the shoot. Melville wasn't even there. Cocteau is someone who has made such a profound impression on me that there's no doubt he's influenced every one of my films. He's a great poet, a great novelist, maybe not a great playwright -- although I really love one of his plays, The Knights of the Round Table, which is not too well known. An astonishing piece, very autobiographical, about homosexuality and opium. Chéreau should stage it. You see Merlin as he puts Arthur's castle under a bad charm, assisted by an invisible demon named Ginifer who appears in the guise of three different characters: it's a metaphor for all forms of human dependence. In Secret Défense, the character of Laure Mersac probably has a little of Ginifer in her.

Cocteau is the one who, at the end of the '40s, demonstrated in his writing exactly what you could do with faux raccords, that working in a 180-degree space could be great and that photographic unity was a joke: he gave these things a form and each of us took what he could from them.

Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)

I agree completely with what Jean-Luc said in this week's Elle: it's garbage. Cameron isn't evil, he's not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can't direct his way out of a paper bag. On top of which the actress is awful, unwatchable, the most slovenly girl to appear on the screen in a long, long time. That's why it's been such a success with young girls, especially inhibited, slightly plump American girls who see the film over and over as if they were on a pilgrimage: they recognize themselves in her, and dream of falling into the arms of the gorgeous Leonardo.

Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen, 1997)

Wild Man Blues by Barbara Kopple helped me to overcome my problem with him, and to like him as a person. In Wild Man Blues, you really see that he's completely honest, sincere and very open, like a 12-year old. He's not always as ambitious as he could be, and he's better on dishonesty than he is with feelings of warmth. But Deconstructing Harry is a breath of fresh air, a politically incorrect American film at long last. Whereas the last one was incredibly bad. (1) He's a good guy, and he's definitely an auteur. Which is not to say that every film is an artistic success.

Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)

I like it very much. But I still think that the great Asian directors are Japanese, despite the critical inflation of Asia in general and of Chinese directors in particular. I think they're able and clever, maybe a little too able and a little too clever. For example, Hou Hsiao-hsien really irritates me, even though I liked the first two of his films that appeared in Paris. I find his work completely manufactured and sort of disagreeable, but very politically correct. The last one [Goodbye South, Goodbye] is so systematic that it somehow becomes interesting again but even so, I think it's kind of a trick. Hou Hsiao-hsien and James Cameron, same problem. Whereas with Wong Kar-wai, I've had my ups and downs, but I found Happy Together incredibly touching. In that film, he's a great director, and he's taking risks. Chungking Express was his biggest success, but that was a film made on a break during shooting, and pretty minor. But it's always like that. Take Jane Campion: The Piano is the least of her four films, whereas The Portrait of a Lady is magnificent, and everybody spat on it. Same with Kitano: Fireworks is the least good of the three of his films to get a French release. But those are the rules of the game. After all, Renoir had his biggest success with La Grand Illusion.

Face/Off (John Woo, 1997)

I loathe it. But I thought A Better Tomorrow was awful, too. It's stupid, shoddy and unpleasant. I saw Broken Arrow and didn't think it was so bad, but that was just a studio film, where he was fulfilling the terms of his contract. But I find Face/Off disgusting, physically revolting, and pornographic.

Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

His work is always very beautiful but the pleasure of discovery is now over. I wish that he would get out of his own universe for a while. I'd like to see something a little more surprising from him, which would really be welcome... God, what a meddler I am!

On Connaît la Chanson (Alain Resnais, 1997)

Resnais is one of the few indisputably great filmmakers, and sometimes that's a burden for him. But this film is almost perfect, a full experience. Though for me, the great Resnais films remain, on the one hand, Hiroshima, mon amour and Muriel, and on the other hand, Mélo and Smoking/No Smoking.

Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997)

What a disgrace, just a complete piece of shit! I liked his first film, The Seventh Continent, very much, and then each one after that I liked less and less. This one is vile, not in the same way as John Woo, but those two really deserve each other -- they should get married. And I never want to meet their children! It's worse than Kubrick with A Clockwork Orange, a film that I hate just as much, not for cinematic reasons but for moral ones. I remember when it came out, Jacques Demy was so shocked that it made him cry. Kubrick is a machine, a mutant, a Martian. He has no human feeling whatsoever. But it's great when the machine films other machines, as in 2001.

Ossos (Pedro Costa, 1997)

I think it's magnificent, I think that Costa is genuinely great. It's beautiful and strong. Even if I had a hard time understanding the characters' relationships with one another. Like with Casa de lava, new enigmas reveal themselves with each new viewing.

The End of Violence (Wim Wenders, 1997)

Very touching. Even if, about halfway through, it starts to go around in circles and ends up on a sour note. Wenders often has script problems. He needs to commit himself to working with real writers again. Alice in the Cities and Wrong Move are great films -- so is Paris, Texas. And I'm sure the next one will be, too.

Live Flesh (Pedro Almodóvar, 1997)

Great, one of the most beautiful Almodóvars, and I love all of them. He's a much more mysterious filmmaker than people realize. He doesn't cheat or con the audience. He also has his Cocteau side, in the way that he plays with the phantasmagorical and the real.

Alien Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997)

I didn't expect it as I was walking into the theater, but I was enraptured throughout the whole thing. Sigourney Weaver is wonderful, and what she does here really places her in the great tradition of expressionist cinema. It's a purely plastic film, with a story that's both minimal and incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it managed to scare the entire audience, while it also had some very moving moments. Basically, you're given a single situation at the beginning, and the film consists of as many plastic and emotional variations of that situation as possible. It's never stupid, it's inventive, honest and frank. I have a feeling that the credit should go to Sigourney Weaver as much as it should to Jeunet.

Rein ne va plus (Claude Chabrol, 1997)

Another film that starts off well before falling apart halfway through. There's a big script problem: Cluzet's character isn't really dealt with. It's important to remember Hitchcock's adage about making the villain as interesting as possible. But I'm anxious to see the next Chabrol film, especially since Sandrine will be in it.

Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997)

I've seen it twice and I like it a lot, but I prefer Showgirls, one of the great American films of the last few years. It's Verhoeven's best American film and his most personal. In Starship Troopers, he uses various effects to help everything go down smoothly, but he's totally exposed in Showgirls. It's the American film that's closest to his Dutch work. It has great sincerity, and the script is very honest, guileless. It's so obvious that it was written by Verhoeven himself rather than Mr. Eszterhas, who is nothing. And that actress is amazing! Like every Verhoeven film, it's very unpleasant: it's about surviving in a world populated by assholes, and that's his philosophy. Of all the recent American films that were set in Las Vegas, Showgirls was the only one that was real -- take my word for it. I who have never set foot in the place!

Starship Troopers doesn't mock the American military or the clichés of war -- that's just something Verhoeven says in interviews to appear politically correct. In fact, he loves clichés, and there's a comic strip side to Verhoeven, very close to Lichtenstein. And his bugs are wonderful and very funny, so much better than Spielberg's dinosaurs. I always defend Verhoeven, just as I've been defending Altman for the past twenty years. Altman failed with Prêt-à-Porter but at least he followed through with it, right up to an ending that capped the rock-bottom nothingness that preceded it. He should have realized how uninteresting the fashion world was when he started to shoot, and he definitely should have understood it before he started shooting. He's an uneven filmmaker but a passionate one. In the same way, I've defended Clint Eastwood since he started directing. I like all his films, even the jokey "family" films with that ridiculous monkey, the ones that everyone are trying to forget -- they're part of his oeuvre, too. In France, we forgive almost everything, but with Altman, who takes risks each time he makes a film, we forgive nothing. Whereas for Pollack, Frankenheimer, Schatzberg... risk doesn't even exist for them. The films of Eastwood or Altman belong to them and no one else: you have to like them.

The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997)

I didn't hate it, but I was more taken with La Femme Nikita and The Professional. I can't wait to see his Joan of Arc. Since no version of Joan of Arc has ever made money, including ours, I'm waiting to see if he drains all the cash out of Gaumont that they made with The Fifth Element. Of course it will be a very naive and childish film, but why not? Joan of Arc could easily work as a childish film (at Vaucouleurs, she was only 16 years old), the Orléans murals done by numbers. Personally, I prefer small, "realistic" settings to overblown sets done by numbers, but to each his own. Joan of Arc belongs to everyone (except Jean-Marie Le Pen), which is why I got to make my own version after Dreyer's and Bresson's. Besides, Besson is only one letter short of Bresson! He's got the look, but he doesn't have the 'r.'
Translated by Kent Jones


1. Celebrity, released two months earlier in January 1998. (Ed.)

Originally appeared in Les Inrockuptibles (March 25, 1998). This translation originally appeared in Senses of Cinema 16 (Sept-Oct 2001). Available online at


Press Conference (extracts)
Cannes 91
translated by David Phelps

When I was turning around this idea of making a film from The Unknown Masterpiece, what made me think that it was possible was an interview with Isabella Rossellini, in Marie-Claire, I think, about the fact that she was both an actress in the movies and a model for Lancôme. She explained that, for her, the work of a model in front of a photographer was as important as that of an actress in front of a camera. She had a connection as strong with the photographer as with the director. This was the impetus for the story: a young woman who is forced to be a model and, at first, does it as a challenge, then is taken in by the performance.

I saw, in the 60s, a number of paintings by Bernard Dufour which really made an impression on me, mainly in the way in which the figure emerged on the canvas through, even in that era, non-figurative, gestural outlines of the body. So I thought of him very quickly. Since he didn't have any exhibitions in the 70s or 80s, or I missed them, it was only then that I saw his more recent canvases, which were of the female body, fat decapitated nudes, missing the top and the bottom. It then became obvious that, if Bernard agreed, he would become the hand of Frenhofer.

There's a certain approach behind film projects that unfurl happily -- which was the case of this one, in any case concerning the script and the shooting, after that we'll see -- and Bernard was immediately to be part of this project's approach, which was also the opinion of the producer, Martine Marignac. And when I was a witness to the first meeting, in Paris, between Michel Piccoli and Bernard Dufour, face to face, it was clear that Frenhofer existed. I had already seen the setting of the Château d'Assas with its living room/salon the two chimeras (1), and we told ourselves that Frenhofer would also be a chimera, with the body and the face of Michel and the hand of Bernard.

I kept the reference to Balzac's short story because I found that Frenhofer is a pretty name and that La Belle Noiseuse is a magical title that always made me dream. Even before reading The Unknown Masterpiece, someone had talked with me and I knew that there was a painting in it called La Belle Noiseuse. We didn't call it The Unknown Masterpiece, since that tells a different story, that we couldn't preserve from Balzac. Balzac is rigorously inadaptable to cinema, to television, or to whatever. In French literature, I think that Balzac is the greatest idea-bearer. He's the equivalent of Goethe for the Germans. He's our Goethe.

We never asked Bernard Dufour to restart a drawing, or to make any attempt beforehand. I'm repelled by preliminary sketches, unless they're absolutely indispensable. First we filmed for first fifteen days or so, which correspond to the first hour of the film, the prologue, for everyone to meet everyone else. Next, we entered in the workshop where we filmed chronologically everything that happens there, to have this progression of drawings, of Frenhofer and Marianne's relations, of the relations of Michael with Bernard as much as with Emmanuelle.

It's obvious that all the first poses of Emanuelle have been determined by Bernard. It's he who offered up the three lines spoken by Michel: "Right, arms hanging, look at me, but don't stare..." Later, it was completely collective.

For me, the cinema is interesting when it's given up to a number of people. (2) It's one way of making films. I'm not saying it's the only way, nor the best, but it's the one I like, like a game, with partners, like you play Cowboys and Indians. There, it's another way of playing Cowboys and Indians.

A director doesn't put himself in danger as much as a painter in his relationship with his models, his actresses. A director is a hider. (3) He is hidden behind the camera. And I -- what's more -- I hide myself behind plenty of people, since it's my screenwriter partners, Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent, who have been equal parts of the adventure since the start and during the entire time of filming.

There's one sentence in the film -- I don't know if it's from Christine or from Pascal, it's their own style and it doesn't matter -- that says, "Possession, possession... Possession is impossible." Of course, a painter, a writer, a director, fantasizes over this idea of possession, but knows quite well that it doesn't exist... I'm possibly possessive with the actors, but it's to ask them for freedom, for invention...

Of course, you can watch my films as a metaphor for cinema, but I don't realize it until after the fact. Here, it was in the editing that I reflected that it was once again possibly related to cinema. Many filmmakers wish to make films that try to talk about painting. It turns out that two Frenchmen this year, with means that I suppose are different, have had this exact wish. It's a coincidence, but I believe that this coincidence corresponds to something. Painting is one of the great temptations of cinema, and at the same time it's not a temptation, since everyone knows quite well that cinema is the opposite of painting. It's an impure art, complex, between the novel, theater, painting, music, dance, etc., and it's normal that at this somewhat indeterminate place in the middle of the traditional arts, one wants to sometimes view it in a certain direction, or sometimes in another... I would love, for example, to make a film about dancing, but it would be very complicated.

Afterwards, one could view it as a metaphor for cinema. But it's not obligatory. Once again, we've tried to make a film which doesn't talk about painting, but borders on it, approaches it. That it might make a stab in the path towards painting. When the painting is really about to start, the film withdraws with respect to what's going on in Frenhofer's workshop, one passes to the other side of the table and no longer sees the work. At that moment, the film leans (4) towards Liz, Julienne, towards all the other characters, or towards the relationship between Frenhofer with Liz... The film can no longer talk about painting or then, once again, it would need to be very, very long, the time it took Cezanne to make a picture.


1. The French word is "chimère" which translates as "pipedream," or "idle fancy" or "chimera." I think Rivette is using this vague word as a reference both to unseen paintings (why two?) and to the character himself.

2. This is a key, but very tricky phrase: "le cinema est intèressant losque l'on se met à plusieurs." I contacted some outside help on this one, and the phrase "l'on se met à plusieurs" essentially means that it takes a number of people to perform a job, or that the job is offered up to a number of people to perform. Given Rivette's statements elsewhere, this seems exactly his sort of definition of cinema; "cinema is interesting when it's made by a bunch of people," I guess would be a less direct translation that's basically been his motto since he came up with the anti-auteurist theory. My phrasing may sound vague or like a bad translation, but I think this is one of those spots where Rivette, ever the student of Henry James, offers a definitive statement in very vague terms.

3. Rivette's using slang! "Coward" might be better here, though the word I got from my dictionary for "planqué" is "funker," which evidently means somebody who hides.

4. Technically, "bascule": totters, toggles, tips up, tips over.

Originally appeared in Cahiers du Cinema 445 (June 1991): p. 34. Translated by David Phelps.


Interview with Jacques Rivette
Serge Daney and Jean Narboni
translated by Louisa Shea

Production schedule and micro-systems

Jacques Rivette ... There are very few directors in France who really control their production schedule; Franois (Truffaut) aside, there's really only Rohmer and Lelouch, those, that is, who created a studio that belongs to them in part or in full, and that allows them to work on short, mid and long-term projects. I think that all other directors lose three quarters of their time between films, and that's when one isn't happy ... The question of one's production schedule is always a tricky one.

Cahiers. And you think it's time lost?

Rivette. I'm not saying it's necessarily lost time, but more often than not, it's not the happiest of times... Half of the time is spent asking oneself, what project can I envision given the circumstances, the possibilities, the state of French cinema in general and one's own state in particular? And then, once one thinks one's found a viable project, how will one pull it off? And, will the project, when it finally becomes reality, lead to other things and how? It's not always easy to live through, but, well, it's the same for everyone ...

Cahiers. And you think it's always been this way?

Rivette. The feeling I have is that it's become increasingly difficult in the past few years, and that it will become even more so because there are more and more directors, real and potential. In a certain sense that's a good thing and there's no reason to establish a system of obstacles. But at the same time, I read this in Le Monde yesterday or today, there is sense of triumph, of euphoria in French cinema because last year there were 160 films and this year 180 ... But of these 180, how many will be seen outside Paris, be it only in France's big cities?

Cahiers. There are two films of yours, Noroît and Merry-Go-Round, that have still not been released.

Rivette. They might very well have been released; but it so happened that Gaumont, in its capacity as distribution house, didn't think they would bring in a large audience. Maybe they're right, from their point of view. At the same time, they got caught up in the mess with Tchalgadjieff and now they are stuck because of Stéphane's insolvency. But these things happen to other films too. This time, however, it happened to two films, one after the other, same story each time.

But in a sense -- and this is a very selfish point of view -- I didn't really do anything to ensure their release. Because the release for instance of Duelle, which was not an easy film to release, was done so clumsily that I would almost have preferred if the film had stayed in its boxes ... I was more handicapped, personally, even purely egoistically, by the failure of Duelle than I was by the non-release of Noroît and Merry-Go-Round. It gives one a stronger sense of rejection, of error of course too. No, what's really bothersome is that nearly all directors are at the mercy of such things. We were speaking earlier of Truffaut, Lelouch or Rohmer; they had the wits to construct something-it wasn't a gift bestowed upon them-a form, a micro-system that allows them to immediately overcome this type of misfortune, like La Chambre Verte for Truffaut, or Perceval for Rohmer; as for Lelouch, there are many examples. But for me, and for almost everyone, it's very difficult to carry on and begin again; and I consider myself privileged, in so far as I've been able remake several films that hadn't been released, or had been but poorly so, and recently to remake another, thanks to the good will of the actors and the technicians, even though we had to film in very poor conditions.

I remember a conversation I had with Serge one evening when we'd met by chance, two years ago. You said something I found both fair and unfair. It was, I believe, about Chabrol. You said that the director's job was to film, so what you liked about Chabrol was that he was a director who filmed incessantly, like Raoul Walsh, or whoever it was. I know it's true of directors like Lelouch, Truffaut and Rohmer, who has barely stopped since the Contes moraux. But I think there are many directors who would say; "Most gladly! OK, but how?"
Cahiers. Then we have to come back to this idea of the micro-system. Were you conscious, at one time or another, that you were not creating your production micro-system and that you were proceeding a little haphazardly?

Rivette. No, I was often tempted to create one. Not tempted strongly enough no doubt, since I never succeeded, never saw the attempt through. I never felt that I had the will, or would take any pleasure in handling the financial mechanisms necessary to found a production house. It's not even a question of means, it's a question of affinity for such things. Let's say that with someone like Tchalgadjieff, I thought for a number of years that I could have, like Chabrol with Génovès, a relationship with someone who trusted me -- rightly or wrongly -- and who didn't want to know what the next film would be but only: who would be in it, how much it would cost, if the project was feasible or not, and who would then try to get things rolling. Unfortunately, of that breed of producer, there are hardly any left; they've all gone down the drain. That's been the Centre's official policy in the past five years: to unseat them. It's a systematic policy that coincided at its beginning with the departure of Chausserie Laprée; it's not for nothing that the was thanked prematurely ...

Cahiers. When one speaks to Truffaut of his job or career, these are words he accepts. How about you, would you say, it's my passion?

Rivette. That's a question I've always avoided.

Cahiers. Because you see, what you call micro-systems, they make it so that a director can continue to work, to live his passion ...

Rivette. Certainly, and I am now punished for not having created one. At least relatively speaking, because, once again, I consider myself privileged compared to many.

The history of cinema is a series of misunderstandings

Cahiers. Your films, we've followed them from the beginning as so many experiments in how far one could go in this or that direction.

Rivette. Not necessarily. In fact, it's less true of my latest films, and maybe that's what makes them less interesting. It's possible.

Cahiers. What strikes us about your films, is that they represent an almost exhaustive spectrum of all possible scenarios. You began with a disaster of near apocalyptic dimension, a financial failure that was also a mythical film, Paris nous appartient ...

Rivette. Paris nous appartient, in the end, was a happy event ... I never experienced it as a curse, because from the start, before it was even finished, thanks to Franois and others, it gained a legendary aspect, so it was very good ...

Cahiers. Then came La Religieuse, which met with yet a different reception: here was a banned film, a scandal, etc... Rivette. It's the contrary of Paris nous appartient, in a sense. Because, on one hand, it was a big commercial success, it's even the only one of my films that met with real success; but it was one misunderstanding after another from beginning to end.

Cahiers. Then, a moderate success, L'Amour fou ...

Rivette. L'Amour fou was, for the producers, I think, more or less a complete failure, in part because of their own clumsiness. For me, everything went very well, except that it wasn't well distributed. but it was seen, after all. That's all one asks for.

Cahiers. Then, another mythical film, but one that was not seen, Out One, then a film that rode the wave of the moment, feminist, leftist, etc., Céline et Julie vont en bateau, then another release that flopped, Duelle, then two more films that weren't released and now another ...

Rivette. What is it that strikes you in all this, the incoherence?

Cahiers. No. The plasticity!

Rivette. If you had accused me of incoherence, I could have accepted ...

Cahiers. No, it's rather that the films of Jacques Rivette are very different one from another, meet with different fortunes ...

Rivette. In the beginning, they tried to be. Now, I am more sensitive to their repetitive aspects. That said, it's true that no two films were put together in the same way. Except for the little series with Stéphane, Duelle, Noroît ... and even then, we weren't able to see the project through! Each of them represents a particular case, as Le Monde always puts it, from the film thrown together with little money from François, a little film stock from Chabrol and a 'let's see what happens' attitude, to the very normal production of La Religieuse. The others are in-between, like L'Amour fou, a film that started out as a small, normal production and became a monster-by my own doing. And then there are others that benefited from particularly favorable conditions that couldn't exist anymore today, like Out One, or the series Duelle, Noroît. We obtained almost miraculous advances on projects of only three pages, thanks, I take it, to the previous film.

Cahiers. You mean that today, it's no longer possible to have the same experience in cinema as you had in the past?

Rivette. It's still possible, but no longer in the climate of tolerance and relative comfort of back when. In the past twenty years, there have been roughly speaking three periods. I'm not speaking about cinema as one discovered it in the 50s and into which it was impossible for us to enter. There was the cinema of the early 60s, a transitional cinema that gave us the first films of the so-called Nouvelle Vague, although the old system of distribution-production remained fairly strong. Even people like Beauregard established themselves by taking their place on the inside, alongside the old distributors of the 50s who were still around. It's at end of the 60s that it all came crashing down. In the early 70s, the Center's policy of Advances was toppled. In 1967, L'Amour fou had been refused on the basis of a thirty-page script, even though it had a classical, well developed, storyline that allowed one to get a good sense, it seems to me, of what the film would be like. By contrast the project for Out One, of 4 pages only, purely abstract, theoretical, was accepted in 1970, as was the four-film series I had proposed in 1975.

Cahiers. So that's the second period?

Rivette. Yes. But at the same time, it created a bit of a scandal, the advance we'd received for the four films in '75. You see, it was the end of an epoch. We'd received 50 million, that's 200 million old francs. They're been advances of more than 50, even 100 million, be it only for Bresson; but it was the fact that we got four at one go that caused the scandal. It cost us very dearly and we haven't finished paying off our debt, Stéphane and I. In a certain sense, when we presented ourselves before the Commission on Advances, in early '75, everyone knew that the Commission in question was coming to an end, and there were people who were sympathetic to us and who gave us, so to speak, a farewell gift. In retrospect, it was a very open period. In the years following 1968, for reasons of bad conscience, the cinema milieu in France and throughout the world tried to integrate into the system people who hadn't previously been part of it, only to subsequently reject them. There was a period of five or six years during which one could do much; then everything was rebuilt. I think now that we were very clumsy because we didn't know how to make he most of it ... But could one have done more? Maybe it was all an illusion. Maybe Céline is the most one could do; but Out One, the series of four films, no: one could embark on such a project but there were sanctions to be paid. I believe that what was being put into place, what is still being put in place now, is something completely different from the system of the early 1970s.

What is a producer?

Cahiers: Can one already describe what it will be?

Rivette. I see it from the outside. Maybe there's no precise project ... There are things, it seems, that one no longer wants, but no one is quite ready to admit it ...

Cahiers. What disappeared in the early 1970s are producers, in the strong sense of the term. In your opinion, Tchalgadjieff, what type of producer is he? Did you have a real dialogue with him, or was he rather someone who trusted you and was happy to simply find and manage the finances?

Rivette. I have never encountered the type of production work that directors would really need, that's to say, the American producer. That's something that's completely lacking in France; or if such producers exist, I've never met them. The feeling I have is that there are either people who want to intervene every step of the way, but then they can only flee from directors such as myself (or you have to be Bunuel to work with them, with someone like Silberman. Otherwise, it usually ends very badly, and there are many examples besides Liliane de Kermadec ... ). So there are producers who really intervene. And there's the other type of producer, the kind I worked with. Very few of them, really: two films with Beauregard, four with Stéphane. Céline came together through a series of friendships, and was managed by Barbet Schroeder (if it weren't for him, the film would never have been made) and for the last film, same idea. But these two films are exceptions. I only really know two producers, who took on projects that had more or less clearly defined subjects. With Beauregard, things were all the more clearly defined because he suggested I do the Religieuse -- I had come to him with a different project altogether. Then came the book, the adaptations, the classical project in short. L'Amour fou was just a phrase and became thirty pages. As for Stéphane, on all four projects, he simply trusted me. But both Beauregard and Stéphane took care of financing the project, after that they didn't lose interest in what I was doing, but they had a false position with regards to the filming process, and in the end they didn't intervene enough. Beauregard was prodigiously bored during the shoot. He would find the funds, watch the first rushes, and after that he simply wasn't interested. Stéphane would have liked, I think, to follow the shoot but he was stuck in his office because of financial problems and also perhaps because of a certain reserve. But the producers have it wrong. If someone could be there all the time, alongside the assistant or the director of photography, someone who could provide another perspective and who could discuss things with us without being a watch-dog, well then, why not? Maybe I wouldn't put up with it, but I think it's something that we, I say "we" because I think I'm not the only one, that we have lacked. Because even though we work with a team there are times on the shoot when one feels very much alone.

Cahiers. A producer who doesn't disengage from the project, yet doesn't take on the role of despot, isn't that a bit of a myth? Do you really believe it's possible?

Rivette. Maybe not ... Maybe it's a myth. As described, it's a role that's almost impossible to fill-it would require a saint. But in the last issue of the Cahiers I read the interview with Winkler, where he speaks of his relationship with Scorsese. He describes himself as someone who follows every step of the film, from the initial project to the end, including the actual filming. He isn't absent, it seems, when important questions arise or when there are grave problems on the set ...

Cahiers. But isn't it precisely to avoid this type of problem that certain directors created their own micro-systems, so that they knew they would always land on their feet again? Whereas you-I don't know if you'll recognize yourself in this romantic and extravagant image of yourself-you give the impression that you're someone who says: if we don't land on our feet again, well, too bad!

Rivette. No. Absolutely not! No, no, I have always been convinced, before and after -- not always after -- that the films I was making were films that would find a large audience. When I was filming Noroît, I was persuaded that we were making a huge commercial success, that it was an adventure film that would have great appeal ... When the film didn't come out, when it was considered un-showable ... I was surprised. I don't consider myself ... unfortunately, I'm not very lucid when it comes to the potential success of my projects, my films. That's why it would be nice, even if it's sometimes difficult, to be confronted by the producer. That's no doubt why I like working with Suzanne Schiffman. Officially she's first assistant, but unofficially at first, and then officially, she became co-screenwriter, and often, truth be told, co-director. Her role obviously isn't that of producer, but she's someone who even as she participates in the project can criticize it from the inside, in a constructive manner.

One film in four

Cahiers. Isn't it true that the disappearance of the producer was accompanied by the inflation of the notion of the auteur?

Rivette. The production machine, as if functions today, needs the figure of the auteur. The production machine creates them, doesn't stop creating them, for better or for worse. It needs signatures, but you know that as well as I do. The number of such auteurs who have been created in the past ten years! We did it, too, thirty years ago, we created them, with people like Preminger; although, in a sense, Preminger IS an auteur! Well, in any case, Mizrahi did create a good number and when I say Mizrahi, it's a clear example! And of course Gaumont needs these auteurs created by Mizrahi, these perfect creations who have all the advantages of an auteur and none of the inconveniences ...

Cahiers. People like Comencini ...

Rivette. Comencini, yes, or what Losey became, etc. They are auteurs for promotional purposes. At the same time, this mix is amusing. I am not at all against mixing things, because I believe that cinema always has, and only can, survive on misunderstandings ad chaos. Just as Renoir made nearly three quarters of his greatest pre-war films with more or less shady producers. Now the profession has been frightfully cleaned up; irregularities have not become impossible, fortunately; they still exists, but they are harder and harder to get away with. There are other conditions that promise misunderstandings, and we must hope they will last. The fact that there are fake auteurs ˆ la Comencini, who are grouped together almost on the same level as Bergman, Fellini or Bresson, might enable Bresson to make further films. So long live misunderstandings and long live chaos, because cinema lives only from them! It lives not only on bluff and imposture, but on misunderstanding, really! It started with Birth of a Nation, maybe even before, and it hasn't stopped since, in different forms according to the times, the periods, the circumstances. So I believe the only question that concerns all directors is this: given the circumstances, what misunderstanding can I turn to my profit?

Cahiers. You told us earlier that you were annoyed by what Mankiewicz recently said about producers on television.

Rivette. Yes, because Mankiewicz himself always holds to this kind of producer talk! I only saw part of the Douchet broadcast, but that's what struck me. It's always the same talk, the same as Thalberg: "What are these people who call themselves directors and who juggle lenses and camera movements?" It's the discourse that Hollywood has always held vis-à -vis Welles, for instance. I think that Mankiewicz ascribes to this discourse. It's René Clair, Mankiewicz ... René Clair, Mankiewicz, it's all the same! They are fundamentally screenwriters-producers, and only secondarily directors. It's normal that he should be against Thalberg, that is against his boss and not against the producer because he is the producer. He was a producer before the war and he has been the producer of most of his films. The conflict with Cléopatre is also a conflict with Zanuck, the big boss.

I still think that Eve is a failed Broadway piece, and that it's not for nothing that he left after the first scene of Cocteau's Monstres sacrés (which by the way is not a good Cocteau film) because as I see it, the first scene is so powerful that one cannot write the ending, of if one does, one is doomed to churn out a scenario à la Bernstein. Either one drops the subject, or one ends up with something as bad as the third act of Monstres sacrés or the final scenes between Sanders and Anne Baxter, of which I have a horrific memory. The truth is, I really liked Mankiewicz's films from the 50s, and when I saw some of them again, it was maybe in passionate circumstances ... I know that was the case for Eve. I was working on a project with Jeanne Moreau and Juliet Berto where the first scene was that of Monstres sacrés, and when I saw Mankiewicz's film again at that time at the Cinémathèque, I was deeply disconcerted because I was immersed in my project. So of course, I reacted violently.
Cahiers. When you see films, or see them again, you always react very passionately. I always have the feeling that you're interested in all of cinema, not only the "great" films, auteur films.

Rivette. It depends, as for all of us! There are periods when I'm more open than others ... There is one thing that one never talks about, or rarely: the possibility of seeing a bad film, solely because one sees it in a particular state, on a particular day, at a particular time ... One always speaks of films as if they were absolutes; yet we always see them in particular circumstance, be it only because of the different projection conditions of each theatre. All that matters enormously. So, it often happens that I see a film I know has objective value and yet sit through it absolutely bored even though I know, at the moment I'm watching it, that I will find it remarkable if I watch it again in three months time; and vice versa ... In other words there is a pulp aspect to cinema, that shouldn't be lost. I mean that in "pulp literature" one also, suddenly, comes across the "Série noire," Simenon and others... there is always a moment where literature recognizes its own. And one of the strengths of cinema has been that great mix, and it's thanks to this that Renoir could make films in the pre-war period, because they were presented as films by Duvivier ... To come back to your question, people who go to, say, one film every two weeks and tell themselves, "I will see the great films, but not the others, not the commercial movies," I think those people have no chance of really seeing cinema. I think that cinema is only accessible to those who accept that they must consume the "mainstream." On the other hand, the consumers of mainstream cinema who reject Duras, Bresson, Straub or Schroeter, are also people who refuse cinema. That said, it's a question of lifestyle: there are those whose daily schedule includes two hours to watch a movie, others who prefer to read, or listen to music.

Cahiers. You are, as far as we know, one of the persons who watches the most films, who frequents the most obscure theatres. And television?

Rivette. I have no relation with television. It's not a willed refusal. First, because I'm never at home; there too, it's a question of lifestyle. I have on occasion seen films on television at friends' homes, and since I'm not used to it, I've always had the impression that I was not watching the film, that I was seeing something else, a reflection . . . It was not a real connection! I agree with what Eustache says, television is great for a second viewing, but not for discovering a film. It's a bit like seeing a film again on the editing table. And when I speak with people who've seen on television a film I saw earlier on the screen, I always have the impression that they haven't seen quite the same film, but maybe that's wrong ...

Cahiers. With tape-recorders and cassettes, one can establish a new relationship to film. I imagine that someone could decide to watch again only one scene of a film he likes, for example the airplane scene in La Mort aux trousses ... That creates a new relation to the film, a little crazy, a little suspect, rather anti-cultural.

Rivette. It's not at all anti-cultural. On the contrary, I think that's what cinematic culture really is.

Cahiers. Isn't seeing too many fims a little stultifying?

Rivette. I don't think so. Why?

Cahiers. Because the weight of cinephilia seems to inhibit many young directors.

Rivette. I think it's inhibiting because they haven't seen many films. The people who were the most influenced by Resnais, Godard, it's because they discovered cinema with them, without seeing them in the midst of all the American films that one imbibed earlier, that and the weight of the Cinémathèque. They were born to cinema with Renoir and Godard, in a sense. Of course that must be inhibiting!

Cahiers. When you see a film, do you put yourself in the position of the director: "Let's see, I would have done this like that"?

Rivette. There's no rule ... one always does it a bit, especially with French films, because we are closer to them than to American movies which always remain, even now, further removed, somewhat mythical.

Two poles

Cahiers. It seems to us that there are two poles in your cinema. One hyper-organized, codified, and the other more laissez-faire. Noroît would belong to the first and Merry-Go-Round to the latter. Rivette. Merry-Go-Round is the only time it really happened that way. For L'Amour fou and Out One, we had a precise project. Not so for Merry-Go-Round. For L'Amour fou, which rapidly became a thirty-page narrative, all the details of the film were improvised as we went along, but the general line had been conceived from the beginning, we had talked about it at length with the actors, Bulle Ogier and Jean-Pierre Kalfon. It took root, it developed in all directions. Out One also had a very precise structure-the relations between the people, their work; only the ending was left blank, open, and we filmed it on the last days, based on the what had gone before.

Merry-Go-Round on the other hand was, at the beginning, simply a matter of economic necessity, linked to the four-film series we'd proposed to the Centre at the beginning of 1975. It came just after Céline et Julie and the project was then simply called "Les filles de feu," a label, no more ... I overestimated my strength. More precisely, I continue to think that the project was attractive and feasible but I was not able to see it through, since the idea was to make four films with no direct relation to each other, except for certain actresses who would have evolved such that if one played the lead role in one film, she would play a minor role in the other, and so forth. The relation between the four films was very vague, the frame was very hazy ... There was a progression from one film to the next, of progressive complications, linked to the effect of the music on the action. Each film had a greater or lesser link to a particular genre: the first was a love story, the second draws on the fantasy genre, the third started out as a sort of western, an adventure film, and the fourth was to be a musical comedy. We began with number two: it was the screenplay that had taken shape the fastest, the actors were there, and I imperatively wanted to exploit the winter theme. That was Duelle. We continued with number three, after just one month's pause, Noroît, the western-turned-adventure flick, and a month later, in August, we began filming the first of the four, the love story, and that's when, quite simply, I broke down physically. As I said, I had overestimated my own strength.
Cahiers. With whom were you working?

Rivette. With Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilù Parolini and Bertrand van Effenterre. Eduardo was the most energetic interlocutor, but the others also played an important role ... As for number four, the musical comedy I wanted to film with Anna Karina in the lead role, it remained rather vague; we had many ideas but we had started on a screenplay that wasn't very good, a very bad starting point and that's why we pushed back the film till the following year. All the more so because with number one, we already knew we were no longer holding up. I really regret it, because I don't know if the film would have been good, but I liked the subject and the two actors too: Leslie Caron and Albert Finney. And so two years later (by which time the money for the two films had disappeared elsewhere, very precisely on Bresson), Stéphane Tchalgadjieff found himself in front of the Commission on Advances, to report on the contract we had signed for the four films, having to account for the two films that had not been made. He finally struck a deal whereby we only had to make one film instead of two. The Centre wanted either the first, aborted film, or the fourth of the group "Filles du feu, scènes de la vie parallèle." But as far as I was concerned, there was no way it would be either of these two projects, and so it became Merry-Go-Round, which was a different project altogether. It so happened that Stéphane had been in contact with Maria Schneider: he had proposed her for another film that she turned downed, saying however that if Rivette wanted to make a film, she would accept. So we started with that idea, with Maria. I met her and asked her if there was an actor she would like to work with. She told me Joe Dallessandro. And so a month before we began filming, I didn't know either actor, we started work with the two actors, and after 8 days, things were going very badly. It was like a machine that, once set in motion, must continue running despite changing regimes, forced or arbitrary accelerations, until the energy was all burned up, exhausted. That's not at all how we filmed L'Amour fou, even if there too, the spectator feels he's witnessing an encounter. I had seen both shows by Marc'O, "Les Bargasses" first and then "Les Idoles." "Les Bargasses" made such an impression on me that I asked Bulle Ogier to play a supporting role in La Religieuse, but she couldn't because she was already working on "Les Idoles." But the project was in place and very quickly took a shape that we never questioned. We filmed the scenes we had planned. It developed but it didn't change. Cahiers. So Merry-Go-Round is unique? Rivette. With Merry-Go-Round everything changed. It's an exaggeration to say that we placed Maria and Joe together in front of the camera and waited to see what would happen. We had a starting point of course, and then we made up the beginning of a story, with a father who had disappeared, but all along we told ourselves, this is just a pretext for Maria and Joe to get to know each other.

I like that idea: two people get together because a third, who has arranged to meet them, does not show up. There have no choice but to get to know each other. It's a situation I imagined in the context of the Resistance. Thinking about it again later, I think it was the subject of Robert Hossein's Nuit des espions. And since I didn't feel like making a film about the Resistance or the terrorist underground, it became that more banal situation, two people convoked by a third who is only the sister of the one and the girlfriend of the other. But since the relationship between Maria and Joe rapidly became hostile, we were forced to develop the story-line; from a mere pretext it took on a disproportionate importance. Maybe that gives the film a certain vagabond charm, I don't know, but it really is a film with a first half-hour that's quite coherent, and then it searches for itself three times, three times searches for a way out... (to be continued)

(Interview by Serge Daney and Jean Narboni)

Originally appeared in Cahiers du Cinema 323-324 (May-June 1981): p. 42-9. Translated by Louisa Shea.