Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jean Renoir, the Boss: The Rule and the Exception

Remember how I said I would try to blog about the New York Film Festival? Turns out I was pretty busy (what with watching all those movies and managing law school). Then, on top of all that, I got sick. Now it's been almost over a month since the Festival ended and I have yet to blog about it. Until now...

During the Festival, I went to see the third and last part of a documentary about Jean Renoir by Jacques Rivette called Jean Renoir, the Boss: The Rule and the Exception (1967) as part of the Cineastes de notre temps program. Cineastes was a French television series of documentaries on great filmmakers created by actor (Paul in Vivre sa vie) and film critic (best known for his writing in Cahiers du cinema in the 1950s) André S. Labarthe. I know what you're thinking: "a documentary about one of the greatest filmmakers ever by one of the greatest filmmakers ever and a Cahiers critic? It doesn't get any better." But it does. Mr. Labarthe himself attended the screening, gave a brief introduction, and answered questions from Richard Peña and the audience.

According to Mr. Labarthe, there are two kinds of filmmakers: those that capture the world as it is and those that try to create their own world. Labarthe saw fit to have Rivette direct this documentary on Renoir because they are both part of the former. They both start with a general idea and allow things to develop as is. Jean Renoir planned the scenes for The Rules of the Game, but they often did not end up as he anticipated. Both Renoir and Rivette are willing to allow life and the world to unfold itself in front of the camera. Rivette recorded endless hours of footage for Jean Renoir, the Boss and created a three-part, multi-hour series out of what was intended to only be a one hour long documentary.

Another great film I saw as part of the Cineastes program of the NYFF was Jacques Rivette: The Night Watchman. Mr. Labarthe asked Serge Daney, one of the greatest French critics, to make a documentary on Rivette. He refused, but then accepted the job of interviewer when Claire Denis was hired to direct. Denis mirrors the directorial style of Rivette and allows life to develop in front of the camera as Daney and Rivette discuss art, cinema, and life. In one scene, Rivette and Daney lost in conversation wander into traffic and walk on the road as cars impatiently follow behind them hoping they will soon get out of the way. Of note is a discussion about Rivette's tendency to disappear between films and completely lose touch with all his personal relationships until he returns to make another film. Jacques Rivette: The Night Watchman is an indispensable record of the method, cinematic ideas, and personality of one of the world's greatest filmmakers and one of the world's greatest critics. The entire documentary can be viewed for free here.

P.S. The great Jean Eustache edited Jean Renoir, the Boss.

P.P.S. Mr. Labarthe made the observation that Truffaut = Renoir + Hitchcock and Chabrol = Renoir + Lang.

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