Thursday, December 24, 2020

La bande des quatres (Jacques Rivette, 1989)


La bande des quatres is a pure Rivettian pleasure, encompassing many of his recurring elements: the theatre as a space of intertwined challenge and refuge; an old house laden with mysteries; a sense of conspiracy and threat lurking at the edges of the film, but also an often playful sensibility. The four are all young women, sharing the house while attending the same theatre group, their lives tightly intertwined – at times there’s a sense of life and vocation in perfect equilibrium, but of course it’s unstable, threatened most explicitly by the shady connections of a fellow student and previous occupant of the house, but also by their essential immaturity and desire to retreat (one of the women came to France to escape an arranged marriage in her home country; another has a boyfriend she almost never sees, and so on). Both spaces are ultimately severely disrupted – their acting teacher gets dragged into the mess and taken away by the police, and their home space is essentially invaded and violated – leaving them to fend for themselves; the last scene, where they attempt to forge ahead, is both vulnerable and ominous. But the heart of the film is the rehearsal process, taking up a large portion of the running time, with viewing and participating carrying equal weight, sinking deep into the mysterious fulfilment of creation and interpretation, of melding the personal and the projected. There’s a sense of theatre and acting as a genuine source of empathetic unity, as the best protection against disturbance and breakdown (for example it’s revealed very late on, almost in passing, that one of the women goes by the name of a sister who went missing) – a breakdown which might even extend to the film’s own boundaries (one character talks about an artist called Frenhofer and a long-missing painting called La Belle Noiseuse, in effect creating a portal to Rivette’s next film). As with all his films, it’s a graceful, inexhaustible, fulfilling delight.

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