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LíAmour Fou (Jacques Rivette) 1968 

    Jacques Rivetteís LíAmour Fou is clearly one of the more superficially challenging films that Iíve seen of late. Itís foreign, four and a half hours long, filmed in black and white on two different stocks (with two different aspect ratios), and has a relatively thin plot. Still, it was one of the best viewing experiences that Iíve had in months. Thereís something about an exceptionally long, deliberately paced movie thatís downright hypnotic when itís viewed in a theater. I am able to lose myself in this sort of epic far more easily than I can in something like Gladiator. That this sort of film is becoming increasingly rare, and hard to come by in theaters (or even on videoÖ LíAmour Fou isnít available for home viewing, even in France) is disappointing. 

    The funny thing is that if you can disregard its stylistic, narrative, and physical challenges, LíAmour Fou is eminently watchable and approachable. As I mentioned, the plot is quite thin. It follows the dissolution of a marriage between Claire, an actress (brilliantly played by Bulle Ogier), and Sebastien, her director (Jean-Pierre Kalfon). This specificity allows the characters to be developed to an extent thatís almost unparalleled in cinema. Rivette uses the longer running time of the film to establish their relationshipís end as the result of a recurring cycle of self-destructive behavior, and not just the fallout from a nasty squabble. Neither in the duo is any more to blame for the breakup than the other. She realizes he will only respond to her when she acts needy and hurt. He stops responding to her because she acts needy and hurt. Their circular routine of self-destruction is unequivocally mutual. To ask who the instigator is would be as pointless as to ask if the chicken or egg came first. Watching their breakdown is both harrowing and fascinating. The only real question for the audience is how long the two of them will both buy into the illusion that itís going to work out. 

    This marital distress plays out over three weeks (shown to us day by day) in which a troupe of actors is preparing a production of Jean Racineís version of the Greek tragedy Andromaque. Though the large passages of the play that are quoted comment directly upon the real life events around them, itís not necessary to try to compare the overall framework of the play (in which the widowed Andromaque marries King Pyrrhus to save her son from the Greeks) to that of the film. The rehearsals seem to function more as a way for Rivette to tie this film in with the rest of the French New Wave. Since the auditions are being filmed, the commentary he offers about the function of the director, film, and the audience feels relatively unobtrusive. The crew that is filming the playís preparations uses a hand-held 16mm camera, which by providing close-ups of the action, seems to feel what Rivetteís more formalistic 35mm compositions seem better at understanding. 

    What I mean by that statement is that Rivette seems to want the audience to understand the process of these rehearsals, so that we can better understand the function of the director. Sebastien, like the Cahiers crew, is quite concerned with how the audience perceives his profession, and itís interesting that the documentarians in the film fail to show us as much about the actual process of directing the actors (e.g. the blocking, the realization of the material), since they seem more interested in the dishy such as whoís sleeping with who and whether or not the production is going to be a disaster. Rivetteís camera, which isnít really ďthereĒ seems to have a better understanding, though, so the audience leaves with a solid understanding of this creative progression. The movie's biggest suggestion is that a director really has to work hard to do what he does and his external life is a harmful distraction to his process. This is admittedly somewhat self-serving (in the same way all the New Wave's self awareness is since itís always making more acutely aware that film has a director), but remains compelling due to its presentation. Overall, the package makes for one of the best French films that Iíve seen. For those that can meet the challenges it poses, itís highly recommended. 

**** Masterpiece 

01-06-02 

Jeremy Heilman