It was during the filming of the documentary Jean Renoir le patron (1966), which consisted of three programs for the fledgling television series “Cinéastes de notre temps” (cofounded in 1964 by the late André Bazin’s wife, Janine Bazin, and Cahiers du cinéma critic and filmmaker André S. Labarthe), that Jacques Rivette discovered a new vision of filmmaking based on that of the aging director. Rivette had felt compelled to completely alter his course following the experience of La religieuse (1965), when he found himself hemmed in by his own scripted adaptation of Diderot’s text. He found inspiration for a stylistic revolution in Renoir, who, in his estimation, had created “a cinema which does not impose anything, where one tries to suggest things, to let them happen, where it is mainly a dialogue at every level, with the actors, with the situation, with the people you meet, where the act of filming is part of the film itself. The two weeks that he spent with Renoir, listening to him talk about the cinema and his relationship with his actors, renewed his desire to pursue completely different avenues in his own work. Rivette also was inspired by the work of documentary filmmaker Jean Rouch, whose films, he insists, uphold the tradition of realism established in Renoir. Rivette’s relationship with his actors would shift significantly following his encounter with Renoir and would become central to the experimental style of L’amour fou (1969), Out 1, noli me tangere (Out 1, Touch Me Not; 1971), and Out 1: Spectre (1971; released 1974).
Rivette’s stylistic revolution coincides not only with the completion of his documentary on Renoir but also with the cultural revolution in France following the events of May 1968. Testifying to the radical moment of cultural change, the nearly thirteen-hour Out 1, noli me tangere, and the reedited four-hour version, Out 1: Spectre, represent the culmination of Rivette’s effort, which began with L’amour fou, to break from the strictures of narrative form, from the inflexibility imposed by a script, and from the acting style required by rigid adherence to the script. The four-hour experimental L’amour fou (the title pays tribute to André Breton’s 1937 surrealist text) initiates Rivette’s exploration of temporal duration. At the request of the film’s distributor, Cocinor-Marceau, a reedited two-hour version was also produced and released in tandem with the original; however, Rivette did not sanction the release of this reedited film, and so disowned it. This unauthorized version was subsequently refused commercial distribution and thus remains unavailable for commentary. The full-length film edited by Nicole Lubtchansky uses duration in a mise en abyme construction where Rivette’s 35 mm black-and-white film records a television crew directed by André S. Labarthe, which uses 16 mm black-and-white film stock to document a stage production of Jean Racine’s seventeenth-century play Andromaque. Rivette uses reflexive theatricality in the film to explore the boundaries of classical theatre and the Italian Renaissance stage, which had largely determined the mise-en-scène of both Paris nous appartient (1961) and La religieuse. In L’amour fou, Rivette pushes beyond the boundaries imposed by narrative, script, and acting style, which he felt had constrained him during the filming of La religieuse, to enter into a new dimension in filmmaking, which is disclosed in this Pirandello citation used to introduce the story outline: “I have thought about it and we are all mad.”
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