La belle noiseuse
Color, DCP projection source, new restoration
Winner of Cannes’ Grand Prix in 1991, Jacques Rivette’s “La belle noiseuse” is a free adaptation of Balzac's “The Unknown Masterpiece” infused with elements drawn from a trio of works by Henry James. In the film, the once-famous painter Édouard Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli) lives quietly with his wife, Liz (Jane Birkin), in a rambling countryside château in the rural Provence region of France. When young artist Nicolas (David Bursztein) visits him with his striking girlfriend, Marianne (Emmanuelle Béart), the aging and increasingly unproductive Frenhofer finds himself inspired to begin painting again in earnest. At the urging of his agent, he commences work on the painting “La belle noiseuse,” a nude portrait that he left unfinished years earlier (and for which Liz had posed). Pressed by Nicolas, Marianne reluctantly agrees to serve as Frenhofer’s new (and nude) model.
Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum — a longtime enthusiast of the director’s work — writes in the Chicago Reader: “The complex forces that produce art are the film’s obsessive focus, and rarely has Rivette's use of duration to look at process been so spellbinding; hardly a moment is wasted. Rivette’s superb sense of rhythm and mise en scene never falters, and the plot has plenty of twists. With exquisite cinematography by William Lubtchansky, beautiful location work in the south of France (mainly at an 18th-century chateau), and drawings and paintings executed by Bernard Dufour. The title translates roughly as ‘the beautiful nutty woman’; it's also the title of the masterpiece the painter is bent on finishing.”
With an introduction and post-film discussion by Robert Hunt, film critic for the Riverfront Times.