Checkmate ★★★

I am often surprised by the conventional style of some early French New Wave shorts. The self-reflexive experimentation that would later define the careers of many directors from the period is often only partially realized. Le coup du berger, like Godard's All the Boys are Called Patrick or Rohmer's The Bakery Girl of Monceau , revolves around a simple conflicted love story between privileged young men and women.

The attraction to these glimpses at early development from the New Wavers isn't based in these overly simplistic stories, but rather in the minor visual flourishes that break from the conventions that many of the filmmakers would ultimately shed or subvert.

Just-too-low angles at the dinner table cause foregrounded wine bottles to tower over the fragile married couple. Just-too-loud Foley sound design makes clinking glasses and ticking clocks overshadow dialogue. A just-too-slow tracking shot along a long dining room table makes a small apartment feel like an expansive and lonely dungeon.

These visual choices elevate a simple story to occasional levels of cinematic beauty, and viewing Le coup du berger hints at the visual prowess I look forward to seeing in Rivette's features.