Obituary: Jacques Rivette, film director

French director Jacques Rivette. Picture: Getty
French director Jacques Rivette. Picture: Getty
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Film director at the centre of the French ‘New Wave’

Born: 1 March 1928 in Rouen, France.

Died: 29 January 2016 in Paris aged 87

French director Jacques Rivette, a secretive pioneer of New Wave film acclaimed for expanding the boundaries of movie making and for creating rich roles for actresses such as Emmanuelle Beart, has died at 87.

Known for his often-tousled hair and slight build, he was among the last survivors from a generation of directors that included Francois Truffaut who startled filmgoers and revitalized filmmaking in the 1950s and 60s. French President Francois Hollande, in a statement announcing Rivette’s death, hailed him as “a cineaste of the woman”. Serge Toubiana of the Cinematheque museum in Paris described Rivette’s “sense of conspiracy, sense of secrecy” and the “magnificent place” he provided to women characters.

Among them were roles in an early film La Religieuse (The Nun), censored when it first came out in 1966; the award-winning, nearly-four-hour La Belle Noiseuse (The Beautiful Troublemaker) with Beart in 1991; and a 1994 version of the Joan of Arc tale called Jeanne la Pucelle starring Sandrine Bonnaire. He was known for working without scripts, for telling stories within stories and for disregarding rules of commercial cinema, notably with his nearly 13-hour Out 1, a film all the more legendary because few have seen it in its entirety. “I’ve never started with the idea of making a film more than two hours long,” Rivette said in 1991. “But I don’t think the true cinemagoer, someone who is not looking at his watch the whole time, minds if a film lasts longer than two or two and a half hours.”

A native of Rouen, Rivette became fascinated by movies in the 1940s after reading a book by Jean Cocteau about his adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. (La Belle et La Bete). He moved to Paris in his early 20s and regularly attended screenings at the Cinémathèque Française, becoming part of an impassioned and gifted circle of young movie lovers that included Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol. Many went on to become critics, then filmmakers, influenced by everything from French literature to American gangster movies, their work a dynamic hybrid of intellectualism, romanticism and raw energy. The New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) was at the centre of a thriving film culture worldwide.

Rivette was a private man and not as famous as Truffaut or Godard, but his career as a director predates them with his 1956 short “Le Coup du Berger” (“Fool’s Mate”) and he was an important influence as a critic. Hired by the revered Andre Bazin for the then-emerging Cahiers du Cinema, he wrote tributes to such American filmmakers as Nicholas Ray and John Ford that nurtured an appreciation in France for Hollywood and in turn inspired Martin Scorsese and other Americans to treat their own country’s movies with heightened respect.

His last film was 2009’s “36 vues du Pic Saint Loup” (“Around a Small Mountain”).

“He was the most experimental of the French New Wave directors,” Scorsese said in a statement. “Rivette was a fascinating artist, and it’s strange to think that he’s gone. Because if you came of age when I did, the New Wave still seems new. I suppose it always will.”

NOEL EARDLEY