Rivette, The Long and Short of It

Written for the April 2015 issue of Sight and Sound. — J.R.

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Jacques Rivette’s preference for longer films over shorter ones has led to many alternate versions over the course of his career, starting with a two-hour version of  L’amour fou (1968, 250 min.) that the director disowned, though it premiered in Paris at the same time as the longer one, and attracted fewer spectators. The differences between the 750-minute Out 1 (1970), composed as an eight-part serial, and the 260-minute Out 1: Spectre (1971), designed as a feature, are far more important: the first is a free-form comedy whereas the second, a tightly edited nightmare fashioned out of the same footage, took Rivette a year to put together, with a separate editor.  Most fascinating of all is the fact that the same shots sometimes have substantially different meanings and impacts. Fortunately, both versions are now available in a lovely German box set from Absolut Medien in which the serial has optional English subtitles. Together and separately, these two films remain Rivette’s key achievement, along with L’amour fou and the 1974 Celine and Julie Go Boating.  (For the latter, Rivette even signed a contract stipulating that his comedy wouldn’t run over two hours, but then everyone who saw the 185-minute work print agreed that it shouldn’t be cut.)

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At least three other (and later) Rivette features exist in shorter and longer versions, both edited by him: L’amour pour terre (Love on the Ground, 1983, 170 min. and  120 min.), La Belle Noiseuse (1991, 240 min.; the two-hour version is called  Divertimento), and Va savoir (Who Knows?, 2001, 220 min. and 150 min.)  I haven’t seen the longer version of the last of these—according to Rivette critic Mary M. Wiles, it was seen only by the 1,734 spectators who attended its seven-week run at Le Cinéma du Panthéon in Paris during the Spring of 2002. But I can testify that the other two features feel much shorter (as well as sexier) in their longer versions, suggesting that as a general rule of thumb, the longer Rivette’s features run, the better they turn out to be.

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