Ziglet_mir’s review published on Letterboxd:
-You get stuck inside what you're searching for...
-They're all after possession. They don't know it's impossible.
Watching this I learned more about myself than I could have ever guessed... I really do like watching paint dry. For me, this is Rivette #4.
I have pursued and endured films before that attempt to go beyond the boundaries of filmmaking, and as we all know filmmaking is a form of art. Very few films I have seen (and a handful lately) have transcended their medium to be more like literature (1923's La Roue - my review here) or like poetry (see any Tarkovsky film) or like a painting (see any Lynch or late-Teshigahara film, Basara, for example), and in most they certainly are aware enough to pose the same questions about art in general. My review on Tarkovsky's Nostalgia highlights this. Are artists pretentious, over-indulgent fools? Or are they pursuing a greater truth of life beyond mere paint or charcoal upon a canvas? Films such as Road To Nowhere (I also go over in my review) highlight the dreams, obsessions, and aspirations of the filmmaker while also measuring one's success in pursuing such dreams. Is it possible? And if so, how much is enough?
In this film, Jaques Rivette handles these same questions with insurmountable patience led by two amazing performances provided by Michael Piccoli (RIP) and Emanualle Beart (and to an equal but lesser extent Jane Birkin). Given the circumstances covered in this film, one can easily mistake it's emotional tension (and obvious sexual tension) for something a lesser director or film would be guilty of, but here, it's different. It's at an entirely different level of maturity (is it because they're French?!?). This is a true journey of an artist searching for his masterpiece, but also, searching for the "why" and "how" better than any film I've seen before. It ultimately makes for an enjoyable and fascinatingly emotional journey.
The painstakingly long and aggravating process of art is also highlighted here; how it is born, motivated, taken care of, felt, and how not only the painter but the model is just as important to the final creation. One can feel the physicality of Beart's pain as she holds pose; how also, she feels so fragile in the hand of the grizzled artist. This is where the film works massively well. Rivette shows us Frenhofer's artwork as he performs, and then goes back to her, back to the canvas, back to her in a not so obvious way, but when he does this he allows us to see the profundity of the life being examined. How do we capture it forever on the canvas? How are the emotions felt? It was personally fascinating in this way because I found myself drawing my own perspectives and reactions from each piece, as I assume others would as well.
This leads me to the actual moments of painting and drawing. WOW. It is nothing out of the "ordinary” per-say and perhaps this says more about me than the film, but I was fully engrossed watching the brushstrokes come across the paper/canvas. Watching artwork form and unfold is something I could always do, and this film reinforced that for me.
Going back to the relationships at play, I'll admit reading the synopsis had me pinning this as "old disgruntled artist falling in love with naked beauty", but it really is so much more than that. Things start off interesting when Marianne's boyfriend, Nicholas, offers her services of modeling as a fellow painter to Frenhofer. Yet when she does, he is immediately jealous. She, infuriated with him, starts off reluctant but than pushes Frenhofer to his limits, helps him bounce back after watching him perform his work. The film very much makes the commentary on how real relationships and support systems assist the artist beyond a physical means. The film gets more interesting still when Frenhofer's wife, as supportive and loving as they come, watches him struggle through finding his masterpiece (at a time she was his muse for such a thing).
The term "masterpiece" gets thrown around a lot these days (I'm just as guilty), but this is assuredly one of the appropriate times to use it. An astounding and gradually building piece that allows you to feel the relationships between the people involved, the artist and his artwork, and how the process of art affects the world; personally, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Viewed on the Criterion Channel. Shout out to Joon for this indirect recommendation! Rivette strikes again!