Sunday, September 18, 2011
La Belle Noiseuse
Today I watched La Belle Noiseuse, directed by Jacques Rivette in 1991. I was not really enthused about this movie. It has a running time of four hours, and I pretty much assumed it would just be simply too long to be watchable. I looked up the plot summary on IMDB and it sounded...interesting. Could it be interesting for four hours, though? Somehow, it was. It felt long, but I didn't mind. I was really engrossed in the story, in the acting, in every part of the movie. It was my whole day, and it felt like it, but I thought it was worth it.
The film - "The former famous painter Frenhofer lives quietly with his wife on his countryside residence in the French Provence. When the young artist Nicolas visits him with his girlfriend Marianne, Frenhofer decides to start again the work on a painting he long ago stopped: La Belle Noiseuse. And he wants Marianne as model. The now starting creative process changes life for everyone. It is a struggle for truth, life and sense, and the question where the limits of arts are or whether art is limitless," (from IMDB). So, here we've got a film that's four hours long and focuses mostly on real-time shots of a dude painting. I am pretty sure I haven't sold this movie very well, but it's difficult to!
Somehow, despite what sounds like the most boring film ever, this movie is incredibly interesting to me. I was really fascinated by the dynamic between Frenhofer and Marianne. The scenes of drawing and painting, while in real-time, are not long and boring. They are tense and interesting, because there are so many things going on between the characters. We get to watch, slowly and subtly, how their relationship grows and evolves. There is clearly a link between the creation of the artwork and the destruction of the subject. Frenhofer sometimes talks almost abusively to Marianne, roughly jerking her into position telling her, "I'll crumble you." Later, when the masterpiece is finished, Marianne is disturbed by what she sees - "A thing that was cold and dry -- it was me," she says.
Something that Ebert seemed to say in his essay was that just like Frenhofer finds his real true vision of Marianne, we see what he sees as well. We really see who she is. Marianne models nude, and the frankness of it is a little jarring at first. It's so simple - there isn't really a "gaze" that the camera has, it's just there. It never pans over her body in an exploitative or sexual way. I felt like at first I was looking at her body, I was focused on the fact that she was nude. Then, as the film went on, I started to forget. I was just watching Marianne, studying her personality, her strong will, her determination. I forgot, and no longer was interested in, whether she was clothed or not. I just saw her as I imagine that Frenhofer saw her, not as body parts, not as an object, but as her true being. Maybe this effect was something I just personally felt, but it made the film so amazing, because I really felt like I was experiencing another person's reality.
I really want to keep writing about this movie, but I want to get to bed early so I can try to not be so sleep deprived and exhausted. I loved this film. I realize it's not for everyone. It's long, it's slow, it's different. You need to focus on it, need to just take the film as it is. At times I had questions, but you need to just sit back and let the film wash over you. It's not a puzzle to be figured out, it's an experience. I really loved it. It was an interesting plot, with incredible performances and amazing nuanced sound. I really could just keep writing about everything I loved about this movie, and how surprised by it I was, but I think I've said enough. I'm so incredibly happy that I was able to see this movie for my project - I know I would have never watched it otherwise. It was a great way to spend my Sunday afternoon :)
Have any thoughts about La Belle Noiseuse? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on La Belle Noiseuse
Buy it on Amazon