HAUT BAS FRAGILE (UP, DOWN, FRAGILE)
DIRECTOR: JACQUES RIVETTE
COUNTRY: FRANCE 1995
CINEMATOGRAPHY: CHRISTOPHE POLLOCK
MUSIC: FRANCOIS BREANT
CAST: Laurence Cote, Marianne Denicourt, Anna Karina, Andre Marcon, Nathalie Richard, Bruno Todeschini, Christine Vezinet
SUPER FEATURES: The acting, as usual. Nice, dreamy, dance sequences.
It's been said, in a few reviews of Jacques Rivette's work, that he has a serious admiration for the American musical film. Whether this is true or not, may be of inconsequence to the fact that this film has some song and dance routines in it, and that one can just about tell when they are going to break into it .... well, we knew that in the Hollywood musicals, too, so that's not a surprise.
But the difference here, may be how it is used. In most of the famed Hollywood musicals, the world stops for the song, and then it continues again. The way Jacques Rivette uses this is more subtle, and kind makes each person and character have their own identification with the Hollywood musical, by breaking into it when the situation brings it about. The next question is, is this a musical? No. Then what is it?
A more subtle answer comes in the way that Jacques Rivette does his films, and shows us his characters. Basically, these are people that have grown up seeing Hollywood musicals on the telly, and their inspiration comes across various times, for three of the women. The fourth one, is apparently too worried about a song she likes, to be able to dance, although her moves in her own bedroom, are totally dance like, and appear choreographed.
Story .... story .... a bit more difficult of a proposition. Basically this is a day in the lives of four women, some of which connect, and some who don't, but they all share a liking for musicals, and on occasion break into singing. Even though, this appears rather mechanical like Hollywood musicals, there are times, when the apparent intent, is not to sing and dance, as we would expect, at all, but merely to go through the motions to show that this is something that the character likes. If something like this is the intent, this is a magnificent film for the actors. They get a chance to live out their character's fantasies and inspirations, which more often than not have to be left behind to a set of words, or a minimal action. Here they are shown. One could easily say that Ninon likes things that come to the age of FAME, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and that Louise is a great fan of Gene Kelly, but this might be to degrade the film of its own personality. The two girls interpret many of their feelings through a song, or dance.
The odd thing, is that it takes nearly one third of the film for the first dance sequence to break through, and it is Ninon, who has bumped into someone she is beginning to like, even if he, at first, proves elusive and not trustworthy. Their routine is actually very sensuous and they spend the rest of the film looking for that spark through which to make their relationship get a start. Louise, by comparison, is recovering from a coma she has been in for several years, and though she does not exactly look healthy ( awfully skinny and bony ), she appears to be improving through the film, and it is in the end, when we really find that she is actually the strongest of the characters, and can make decisions faster than the others. She decides in one moment if her relationship to a pursuer is going to start it is going to begin at that very point, when he has to tell her the whole story surrounding her father's whatever, and then they will make love right there on the spot. By contrast, Ninon, is moody and spacey, and too much into her own dancing craze to lounge music. And Ida, is also moody, and volatile, spending her time trying to find a song she heard many years before, which a local singer appears to have done.
Acting. This whole film, like all Rivette endeavors, is nothing but acting, at its best. It's really hard to fault anyone in the film, and the continuity is actually impressive considering the film is so long, and that all of a sudden, we are at the end. The women, have a very impressive sense of self through out the film, and this adds to the movement of the film. Nothing seems to be out of place, and the continuity does not waver from its very own form. Which would seem to render it to be a very good film. It is. But not for American audiences, who are used to fast moving films that have no character depth at all. By contrast, then, this is a director that deals strictly with character depth.
The only annoying thing about Jacques Rivette's work, is that the general perception is that there is some sort of intelectual exercise in action, some metaphysics, that the director is engaging in, which for the most part is hogwash. There is no way, from an actor or director's point of view that anyone can contrive a scale of order for the actor to deliver all the lines and be perfect and clean all the time. No one would be able to afford those kinds of endeavors, and the time it takes to make them. The film then, is a result of magnificent studying by the actors, of each character's role in their own world, much similar to how Mike Leigh works, something that is very important to French Experimental Theatres, with the likes of Peter Brook doing their thing in Paris. But this is not so much "studying" as it is "doing", thus creating a physical environment for each character to work in. As such, then, the result are characters that we can relate to, that do not appear out of place, and disconnected with their world, even if they are thinking... well, it helps that they think out loud, in so many ways, and the director creates situations so none of the characters have to think by themselves.. this is the chance they have to open up, and they do, even if it is a song, or a dance.
Very nice film, although, sadly, if it were left to American audiences, it would have long been buried by now. This director deserves recognition for the magnificent work he does with actors, which is second to none.
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