Thursday, December 16, 2021

Haut bas fragile (Jacques Rivette, 1995)


Haut bas fragile is one of Jacques Rivette’s most beautiful assertions of the world as a playground, so easily and constantly enjoyable that its radical strangeness is rapidly absorbed or overlooked. Just as a small example, the film would generally be labeled as a musical, but the first such number doesn’t arise until well over an hour into the film, and one of the three main characters (all followed through separate, occasionally intertwining narratives) is excluded from any singing or dancing…except that she’s haunted by a song she’s had in her head since childhood, that she believes might lead her to her birth mother, thus in a sense making her story the most purely musical of all. The film teems with elements of quasi-mythology or fairy-tale - a woman waking up after years in a coma, finding herself the owner of a mystery-filled house left to her by a deceased aunt; a mysterious underground society where the members engage in a form of Russian roulette (it turns out to be a fake, but still…); peculiar encounters with men, or with cats – but never feels like a work of frivolity or denial, with none of the three strands providing perfect closure. On the contrary, all three women in a sense choose to defer discovery and accountability, all the better to keep moving unpredictably through life (nevertheless, one comes away with the general sense of a happy ending, as one would wish). The highly theatrical dance choreography forms its own interrogation of life and cinema: one character moves as if openly trying to possess the entire floor, another oscillates between minimal moves and sudden extreme, jagged poses, as if to preserve an element of surprise; all of which (in combination with the quirkily beguiling songs) render the musical sequences not so much an adornment or expressive addition, but a counterpointing source of mystery and reverie. The cast (including Marianne Denicourt and Anna Karina) is almost pure delight.

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