The Jacques Rivette Collection (Duelle/Noroît/Merry-Go-Round) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (23rd May 2017).
The Film

Disc One: Noroît (1976): Lying over the body of her brother Shane who has washed up on the shore, Morag (Doctor Zhivago's Geraldine Chaplin) swears vengeance upon pirate queen Giulia (Genealogies of a Crime's Bernadette Lafont). She enlists her brother's lover Erika (Two English Girls's Kika Markham) who has already become Giulia's confidante to help murder her pirates. When the first of her men washes up in the surf, Giulia – who holds her crew in thrall with supposed magical powers and the promise of a great hidden treasure – suspects that someone close to her wants to kill her, thus providing Erika the opportunity to suggest a bodyguard from outside in the person of Morag. There are plenty of suspects who might want to do Giulia harm, from her sister Regina (Babette Lamy) who believes herself a prisoner beneath all of the luxury her sister lavishes upon her and resents Giulia's grooming of Elisa (Élisabeth Lafont) to become her heiress, her lover Jacob (Lancelot du Lac's Humbert Balsan) who has other lovers among the women of the castle (including Erika), the leader of the slaves Arno (Anne-Marie Reynaud) who proposes rebellion in secret, young pirate Ludovico (Larrio Ekson) who wants to run away with Elisa, as well as Regina's slave Celia (Danièle Rosencranz) whose parents were murdered by Giulia. As Morag and Giulia set about murdering the supporting cast, Giulia comes to suspect that Morag is lying to her but she is not sure about what. Since Erika enlisted Morag, Giulia sends Jacob to seduce Erika into betraying her but Morag proves especially ruthless in her quest for revenge.

Director Jacque Rivette's take on Cyril Tourneur's (or Thomas Middleton's depending on the historian) "Revenger's Tragedy" is a Jacobean revenge tragedy with a side of Fritz Lang's Moonfleet and a Breton (and Brechtian) twist. The first of his unfinished Scenes from a Parallel Life quartet that ended with the second film Duelle, Noroît dazzles with the sinuous camerawork of William Lubtchansky (Shoah) – mixing medieval compositions and modernist camera moves with stunning landscapes and authentic castle settings teeming with natural light – the anachronistic costumes of Renée Renard (First Name: Carmen), but the actual execution of the drama is muddled with experimental cutaways to monochrome or solarized red feeling random even as they are meant to evoke a sense of the supernatural. Chaplin's and Markham's French performances are compelling but most of their sudden switches to English for passages of Tourneur's prose are more distracting than enlightening (with the exception of their ghoulish delivery of the dialogue of the blackly comic Hamlet-like play-within-a-play late in the film). However enthralling the film is visually and aurally – with musical accompaniment performed onscreen with the discordant notes and off-key wailing of the pirates playing looted instruments – one cannot help but wonder the point of Rivette picking such a melodramatic source (and if the full quartet of films if completed would have shed light on his choice here in context).
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Disc Two: Duelle (1976): Shortly after midnight on the last night of the new moon, night porter Lucie (Mr. Klein's Hermine Karagheuz) receives enigmatic guest Leni (La Chinoise's Juliet Berto) who has come inquiring after the whereabouts of her lover of seven years Lord Christie. Lucie does not know but informs the unhappy woman that the previous porter Elsa (The Story of Marie and Julien's Nicole Garcia), now a ticket girl at a dance hall, knew of Lord Christie's assignations with another woman in the same hotel. Leni offers to pay Lucie for information but goes to the dance hall and questions Elsa herself, learning that he was keeping company with a woman named Sylvia Stern (Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud's Claire Nadeau). When Leni arranges to meet Sylvia, the other woman is wise to her pretenses and informs him that her lover is dead ("He burned, little by little, until he disappeared") and that she too will die soon. Sylvia also cryptically informs Leni that she knows what she is really after. Lucie has been carrying out her own private investigation and receives a call from Sylvia who desperately asks her to meet her as it concerns Lucie's brother Pierrot (Jean Babilée). When Lucie arrives at the aquarium, she discovers Sylvia dead with a strange burn on her throat. Lucie hides as the elegant Viva (The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie's Bulle Ogier) arrives and discovers the body and then trails the other woman who turns the table on her and compels her to reveal the nature of her investigation. Viva warns her that Leni is dangerous, but Leni in turn says the same about Viva who she says has bewitched Pierrot who may have murdered his lover Sylvia. Upon learning that Pierrot once worked for Pierrot once worked for Lord Christie, Lucie comes to believe that the dead man has nothing to do with the investigation and that both women are after something else, putting herself, Pierrot, and his new lover Elsa in danger from the two women who seem to possess supernatural powers.

Although the supernatural is conveyed in the film with some simplistic lighting and physical effects, it is through the performances, direction, and the camerawork of Lubtchansky that the viewer gets a real sense of the film's loose mystery structure turning into something that reveals the influence of some of the same pulp literary and serial film sources that also inspired other New Wave filmmakers like Alain Robbe-Grillet (Progressive Slidings of Pleasure) and fantastique filmmakers like Jean Rollin (La Fiancée du Dracula). Late in the film, Pierrot tries to assuage Elsa's concerns about Viva, dismissing her as a "fantasist"; and, indeed Rivette's filmography is full of fantasists, either actual actors/artists/performers or regular people exploring other roles and becoming embroiled in real, often supernaturally-tinged, mysteries. Berto was one of the fantasists and Ogier a fantasme of Rivette's earlier Celine and Julie Go Boating which was penned by Duelle's Eduardo de Gregorio who wove a more overt ghost story out of some of the same elements and cast members of Celine and Julie with his directorial debut Serail. As with Noroît, Rivette employs musicians in the scene to comment upon the action; in this case, the dance hall band, with pianist Jean Weiner (Mouchette) wandering into the background of scenes to improvise (Duelle also shares with the former film a vaguely incestuous relationship between brother and sister). Duelle is never quite as intellectually stimulating as Celine and Julie or Out 1: Spectre but still manages to bewitch and engage the patient viewer.
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Disc Three: Merry-Go-Round (1981): Having received an urgent letter from his ex-girlfriend Elisabeth (Pleasure Party's Danièle Gégauff), American Benjamin Phillips (Born Winner's Joe Dallesandro) flies to France but she is not there to meet him. Arriving at the hotel in which she is supposed to be staying, he finds Léo (Last Tango in Paris's Maria Schneider), a woman claiming to be Elisabeth's sister also waiting for her (having also received a letter begging for her help). When a call comes from Elisabeth's room, they go up there only to learn that she has just left. On a hunch, they visit her father's grave only to once again learn that they have just missed her. Following her trail to a derelict train station, they receive a call on a payphone from Elisabeth finally telling them where they can meet her. Arriving at the family's country house, Ben and Léo learn from Elisabeth that she is in the process of selling it off. The house is populated by a group of odd people purporting to be helping her move and advising the new owner on renovations. Elisabeth puts off telling them why she called them but soon confides to Léo that she believes that their father David Hoffman is not dead and that she is going to meet with a man who claims to have seen him. The meeting turns out to be an ambush and Ben and Léo witness Elisabeth being abducted and spirited away. Upon running into old acquaintance Shirley (City of Women's Sylvie Matton), Ben suspects that she has something to do with the disappearance. Shirley tells him that David Hoffman faked his own death after going bankrupt and disappeared with four million dollars, turning up again in New York as a Julius Danvers (The Soft Skin's Maurice Garrel) who became her lover, and that he arranged Elisabeth's abduction when her own attempts to find the missing money threatened to expose his identity. She tells Ben that she is sick of Hoffman's criminal acts and wants the money for herself, revealing that she has a safety deposit box key but that Elisabeth is the one who knows the location of the bank (correspondence about an expiring account having put her onto the search) and that Léo knows the safe combination. Keeping their meeting secret, they meet the next day with Léo and Hoffman's former lawyer Ms. Novick (Paris Nous Appartient's Françoise Prévost) whereupon Shirley – posing as a confidante of Elisabeth's – gives Léo the key (or a fake one) and the cryptic clue of a postcard with lines from the nursery rhyme about Monsieur Rousselle who has three of everything, reasoning that the Elisabeth is being held at one of the three houses that Hoffman owned or that one of them may provide clues to the whereabouts of the money. As Ms. Novick and her assistant Jerome (Memoirs of a French Whore's Michel Berto) probe Hoffman's disappearance with the revelation that his is still alive, Ben and Léo go on a journey through the French countryside to visit Hoffman's other two houses in search of clues. When Ben's accidentally reveals that he knows more than he has claimed, Léo no longer trusts him and suspects that he too is involved in Elisabeth's disappearance. When they part ways, Léo finds herself having to trust Novick and her findings while Ben goes in search of Shirley and may be walking into a trap.

Rivette's return to filmmaking after a nervous collapse during the making of the intended third entry in Scenes from a Parallel Life titled Marie and Julien with Tom Jones' Albert Finney and Gigi's Leslie Caron (Rivette would revisit the project in 2003 and complete it with Man of Marble's Jerzy Radziwilowicz and Un Coeur en Hiver's Emmanuelle Béart in the leads), Merry-Go-Round was driven by Schneider's desire to collaborate with Rivette and work with Dallesandro but turned out to be what Rivette considered his worst film due to its careless construction (they started with roughly a half hour o story and planned to film chronologically to find an ending), Schneider's frustration and rumored drug use (indeed there are scenes in which they are improvising and it seems as though Dallesandro is trying to elicit any kind of reaction out of Schneider whose lackadaisical attitude during these scenes may not have been that of her character), in-fighting between Rivette and the crew, and Rivette not knowing what he wanted as a filmmaker. He would get back on track with the same year's Celine and Julie-esque Le Pont du Nord – his first without Gregorio – but it would be another three years before he made another film with Love on the Ground. Double-crosses and twists are part and parcel of thrillers involving faked deaths and stolen loot, and Merry-Go-Round does indeed surprise with some of its twists, but the pacing is so drawn out that the viewer is liable to feel as much as Ben and Léo that they are being jerked around rather than lead by the nose. Flashbacks and flash-forwards are not so much informative as devices to smooth over the transition between scenes – along with cutaways to musicians Barre Phillips and John Surman improvising the score in the studio and pseudo surreal sequences of Dallesandro running from knights, killer dogs, and huntresses in the forest and Duelle's Hermine Karagheuz frantically running from invisible pursuers along sand dunes as a sort of substitute for Schneider (with the same hair and jean jacket). At its best, Merry-Go-Round is compelling or at least engaging and watchable at its worst.
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Video

In January of last year, Arrow Video in the UK released the massive sixteen-disc The Jacques Rivette Collection Blu-ray/DVD combo boxed set which reproduced the contents of Carlotta Films' and Kino Lorber's thirteen-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo boxed sets of Rivette's Out 1 and its shorter feature cut Out 1: Spectre while adding to them newly restored transfers of Rivette's unrelated films Noroît, Duelle, and Merry-Go-Round (hence, The Jacques Rivette Collection rather than Out 1) then exclusive to the UK release. With Out 1 and Out 1: Spectre belong to Kino Lorber stateside, Arrow's US limited edition of The Jacques Rivette Collection features only the latter three films (which have yet to be made available in their native France, but both US and UK Blu-rays of the three titles are region free).

Disc One: Noroît (1976): Unavailable in English-friendly form apart from bootleg sources until now, Noroît looks stunning on Blu-ray with Arrow's 2K-scanned OCN-sourced 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 revealing in a wide array of colors and textures in the natural settings, castle walls and furnishings, as well as the outré wardrobe choices. The "magic hour" exteriors look hazy but naturally so without on-camera diffusion or any ruinous digital clean-up while the solarized red-tinted scenes are bold without becoming noisy.

Disc Two: Duelle (1976): Derived from a Technicolor 2K scan of the original camera negative, Duelle looks better than it has before on previous DVD editions in which the settings and low-key lighting have tended to make the film look rather drab. On Blu-ray, the use of light and shadow give a sense of the unnatural entering the commonplace unlike the overall dreamy aspect of the 16mm-lensed Celine and Julie Go Boating.

Disc Three: Merry-Go-Round (1981): Derived from a brand new 2K scan of the OCN, Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer adds a vibrant sheen to a film shot that looked less visually interesting on bootlegs, with sunny exteriors looking believably warm and the craggy textures of the interiors of abandoned houses.
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Audio

Disc One: Noroît (1976): The LPCM 1.0 French mono track serves the dialogue well but also lends depth to the discordant improvised scoring and the sudden shrieks, cries, shouts, and gunfire. The optional English subtitles cover only the French dialogue and would have been welcome to transcribe the overlapping English dialogue of Morag and Erika spoken over Shane's corpse.

Disc Two: Duelle (1976): Duelle features a clean and crisp LPCM 1.0 French mono track that is heavier on dialogue but does offer some surprise sound design and musical instances due to the film's supernatural content. Optional English subtitles are provided.

Disc Three: Merry-Go-Round (1981): The LPCM 1.0 track is clear with English dialogue hindered only by accents. The sound design seems restricted to on-set sound with no standout added sound effects. The improvised score is the most prominent element of the soundtrack. Optional English subtitles are provided only for the French dialogue.
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Extras

Disc One: Noroît (1976): There are no extras on the disc for Noroît.

Disc Two: Duelle (1976): The sole extra "Remembering Duelle" (11:00), an interview with actresses Ogier and Karagheuz who both recall that Rivette offered little in the way of story or character interpretation; rather, he manipulated performances out of them (particularly in setting Ogier and Berto against one another). They both recall that it was an easy shoot with little improvisation (it is a commonly mistakenly stated that all of Rivette's films rely on improvisation and are indeed scripted) and Rivette very focused on the choreography of certain sequences like the dance hall one in which a mirror shatters as the two goddesses confront one another.

Disc Three: Merry-Go-Round (1981): With no extras on the Noroît disc and only an eleven-minute featurette on Duelle, it seems bizarre that Arrow should pack seventy minutes of featuerttes on the disc with the longest film (itself running over two-and-a-half-hours). "Scenes from a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers" (51:43) consists of two archival interviews for German television. The first was shot for a 1990 television special and was shot in 16mm but only survives from a working copy which was re-edited for this shorter piece for German television. Rivette discusses how the "Scenes from a Parallel Life" was conceived firstly as a way to up his productivity and would feature the major characters of one film as minor characters in others. The first conceived was Marie and Julien, a morbid love story, followed by the detective story Duelle, the "western" turned pirate film Noroît, and the fourth was intended to be a musical comedy with a large cast but it was dropped in the scripting stage. He shot Noroît first, followed by Duelle, and started Marie and Julien with Finney and Caron but fell ill. He insists that Merry-Go-Round was not part of the cycle but funder CNC insisted it was as a way of recouping the costs. The film was motivated by Schneider who wanted to work with Rivette and Dallesandro but was troubled from the start because they and de Gregorio only had the first half-hour of story and thought to find their way by shooting chronologically. The unavailability of a location needed to get to the next scene caused a break in the chronology that caused Schneider to lose contact with her character and plenty of difficulty with the remainder of the shoot. He did not edit the film until a year later and found himself having to employ more "tricks" here like flashbacks and flash-forwards to piece the film together. He considers the final product to be a work-in-progress. The second was conducted by Wilfred Reichart upon the release of The Story of Marie and Julien in 2003 with Rivette looking back at proposed quartet and covering much of the same information with the same frenetic hand gestures but shedding a bit more light on the mythological and literary sources (with Duelle drawn from controversial Jacques Markale's book The Celtic Woman, the influences of Kenji Mizoguchi's Tales of Ugetsu on the abandoned first version of Marie and Julien, Lang's Moonfleet on Noroît, and Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai on Duelle. The interview also looks at his choices of actresses and use of music in the two finished films of the quartet.
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Just as informative is "Rosenbaum on Rivette" featurette (22:25) in which critic Jonathan Rosenbaum discusses how his friendship with De Gregorio allowed him access to early screenings of Rivette's films, including Celine and Julie Go Boating and set visits to Duelle and Noroît. He covers some of the same background information on the two finished and one unfinished entries in the Parallel Life series, the inability to apply generic classification to the finished films (which lead to delayed releases of both films) and their uneasy place in Rivette's filmography, and the sexual politics of both. Most interesting, in discussing the influences on both films, he includes Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim for Duelle. He is a bit more forthcoming about the behind-the-scenes difficulties on Merry-Go-Round including Schneider's drug use and Rivette's introducing a New York screening of it as being his worst film. He contrasts Rivette's "see what happens" style of filming with the auteur's filming what is in their mind's eye, and the voyeuristic implications of both (particularly in Duelle and Noroît where he looks at the interplay of live music and live sound performances within the same frame.

Not supplied for review was the book containing new writing on the films by Mary M. Wiles, Brad Stevens, Ginette Vincendeau and Nick Pinkerton or the reversible sleeves with original and newly commissioned artwork by Ignatius Fitzpatrick.

Overall

Although the Arrow's American edition of The Jacques Rivette Collection represents minor Rivette with the exclusion of Out 1 and Out: Spectre, the three films herein do represent a transitional and wildly-experimental phase in his oeuvre.

 


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