Le Pont du Nord, 1982. Integrating the filmmaker’s familiar elements of whimsical, quixotic adventure (Celine and Julie Go Boating), integrated – but unresolved – conspiracy (Gang of Four, Secret Defense, and The Story of Marie and Julien), and liberated bohemianism (La Belle noiseuse, La Religeuse), Le Pont du Nord is an effervescent, ingeniously constructed, and infectiously affectionate paean to the city of Paris. From Baptiste’s (Pascale Ogier) hopeful sentiment of arrival after encircling the statue of the Belfort lion in Denfert-Rochereau (a symbol of French Resistance against the Germans) that is reflected in Marie’s (Bulle Ogier) literal awakening at a random intersection, Jacques Rivette juxtaposes the theme of rebirth against images of Paris in perpetual state of demolition and construction (a state of constant flux and transition that is similarly captured in Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her) that mirrors Marie’s own existential state after being released from prison and an unresolved past of radicalism. Rivette further uses the recurring image of spirals – the serpentine form of a sculptured dragon, the weaving of spider webs (that also reinforces the deceptive, “non-mystery” quality to the film), the characters’ labyrinthine pursuit of the contents of a mysterious briefcase carried by Marie’s former lover, Julien (Pierre Clémenti), the district map of Paris (that Marie observes to resemble a children’s board game) – to illustrate, not only the inextricability of destiny, but also the inherent impossibility of starting over. Set against a shifting and increasingly alien cityscape that, nevertheless, embodies a deeply rooted, cumulative cultural history of resistance and revolution, the film dispels the myth of tabula rasa – a metaphor for a generation’s defeated idealism following the May 68 protests – that seeks to propel modernization and progress through flight and ideological amnesia. Nevertheless, Rivette retains the lyrical tone amid the seeming weight of human tragedy through its indelible film-within-a-film epilogue that, like the parting shot in Abbas Kiarostami’s subsequent film A Taste of Cherry, serves as a thoughtful document of transience, an affirmation of mundane ritual, and a subtle appreciation of the here and now.
Deux, 2002. A young woman named Magdalena (Isabelle Huppert) retrieves a postcard that had been cast into the wind by her biological mother (Bulle Ogier) from a seaside town in Portugal and discovers that she has a twin sist er named Maria. From this seemingly introspective opening premise on identity, connection, and history, Deux diverges into unexpectedly abstract, non-intersecting trajectories that involve a schoolgirl attraction with a fellow classmate, a mother’s wartime romance, a serial killer who leaves a tell-tale rose on the bodies of his victims, a lonely woman who adopts a fox as a household pet. Composed of asequential and dissociated vignettes, the film evokes the baroque tableaux of Sergei Paradjanov, the formalism of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and fractured surrealism of Luis Buñuel infused with quasi-religious iconography and Actionism of Otto Mühl (most notably, in the image of disemboweled figures such as ornamental cherubs). Werner Schroeter’s latest film is an elegantly operatic, tactile, and voluptuous, but ultimately fractured, opaque, and impenetrable, creating a sensuous and visually dense but also idiosyncratically personal to the point of abstruseness.
Unfortunately, the highly anticipated conversation between critic Gary Indiana and Bulle Ogier turned out to be a rambling, disorganized, and incoherent near monologue by Mr. Indiana who seemed far more interested in usurping the spotlight to articulate his opinions on Deux and Werner Schroeter rather than actually interviewing with Ms. Ogier, opening with his expounded personal theory that the relationships between the estranged mother and twin daughters in Deux represented the relational dynamics between Schroeter’s recently deceased mother, his late muse Magdalena Montezuma, and Schroeter himself…to which Ms. Ogier could only briefly respond in agreement (before Indiana then launched into a second theory on the meaning of the film). Fortunately, Ms. Ogier was able to provide some personal insight into her oeuvre, such as her continued work in stage and screen both in France and in Germany, which led to her association with Schroeter. Another was how her collaboration with Rainer Werner Fassbinder in The Third Generation led to the development of her character in Jacques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord as a loose sequel to the newly released, imprisoned former activist and revolutionary of the Fassbinder film.
Los Muertos, 2004. Los Muertos opens to the visually atmospheric and strangely surreal image of an unpopulated tropical forest, tracking sinuously (and disorientingly) through the lush wilderness, momentary revealing the dead bodies of two young people splayed amid the obscuring brush, before returning to the idyllic shots of foliage that becomes unfocused and diffused, imbuing the image with a sense of organic, subconscious somnambulism. The film then takes on a more mundane and naturalistic tone with the shot of Argentino Vargas waking (perhaps from the haunted dream), assembling chairs at a workshop, and eating in silence, before an intervened confrontation reveals that the setting is a rural prison, and Vargas is serving the final days of his sentence for the murder of his siblings. Eventually released from prison, the taciturn Vargas sets out to honor a promise that he had earlier made to a fellow inmate and deliver a letter to the old man’s daughter before embarking on his long, lonely journey home. Lisandro Alonso creates an evocatively atemporal and even otherworldly experience through the film’s indigenous primitivism. Like the seeming mystery of the dead bodies in the jungle of the opening sequence, the film represents a subversion of expectation, most notably in Vargas’ seemingly arrested memories of – and anticipated reunion with – the daughter he left behind (his purchase of candies and a fashionable blouse for her seems to indicate a young girl or teenager and only later does it become evident that she is already a grown woman). It is this process of supplanted expectation that is perhaps alluded to in the film’s contextual reference to the titular dead: a laconic and unstructured presentation of images without narrative form, rather like cinematic ghosts, existing outside of time and physical space in the ephemeral, dense, and impenetrable medium of personal memory.
Ma Mère, 2004. A somber and young man Pierre (Louis Garrel) sits inside a car listening impassively as his barely coherent, self-absorbed father (Philippe Duclos) coldly reveals his resigned resentment towards him as an accident of birth who had caused a premature end to his bohemian lifestyle and sexual experimentation with his wife Hélène (Isabelle Huppert). Brought to a secluded summer villa for a tenuous (and decidedly dysfunctional) family reunion with his seemingly delicate and emotionally opaque mother, Pierre is eager to express his complete devotion towards her in an attempt to prove allegiance to her against the emotional betrayal of his father’s flaunted infidelities. However, when the father returns to France on “business” (a implicit euphemism for his visits to his mistress), Hélène’s awkward intimacy with the tormented and inexperienced Pierre reveals an even more insidious side to her seeming impenetrability. Based on philosopher and author George Bataille’s novel, Ma Mère is an insidious, amoral, depraved, and even darkly comical exposition on filial attraction, sexual initiation, and liberation. Although filmmaker Christophe Honoré presents some indelible and evocative images, most notably in the repeated crane shots of sand dunes that visually reflect Pierre’s underlying sense of desolation, the pervasive bankruptcy and perverted search for intimacy and transcendence in the story is so alienated and bereft of hope that the film’s recurring themes of religion, sexuality, fanaticism, and obsession becomes inextricably moribund and, like the characters’ troubled lives, proves to be a transitory exercise in vacuous, empty ritual.
Acquarello, 2005 [reprinted]