Today is the 83rd birthday of Jacques Rivette (Celine and Julie Go Boating, Paris nous appartient, Le Pont du Nord) and to celebrate we’re posting a clip of the auteur reflecting on the beginning of his career. This interview between famed French film critic, Serge Daney, and the masterful French filmmaker, was filmed by the equally talented Claire Denis in 1990. This segment is part of a full-length television documentary entitled Jacques Rivette – Le veilleur (The Night Watchman), which was part of the series that was started by the OTF (Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française) in 1964 under the name Cinéastes de notre temps and was resurrected in 1989 as Cinéma, de notre temps.
At the time of the interview, Daney had left Cahiers du cinéma almost ten years prior and was writing about film and television for the daily newspaper Libération. Here he interviews and ‘co-directs’ the profile on Rivette, which was shot by Agnès Godard and signaled the beginning of her long-standing collaboration as cinematographer for Claire Denis (including I Can’t Sleep, Beau Travail and 35 rhums). In this clip, Daney and Rivette talk mostly of Rivette’s early years and how he got into filmmaking.
The remainder of the film expands on this focus and is highly recommended by Jonathan Rosenbaum:
Serge Daney, […] two years before his death, converses with Rivette while relaxing in a cafe and strolling around Paris (Denis interjects a few questions toward the end); since both men were former editors of Cahiers du Cinema, not to mention groundbreaking and highly articulate critics, they have a lot to discuss apart from Rivette’s filmmaking. Clips from many of Rivette’s major films (some of which remain difficult to see, like the legendary Out 1) are included, as are interviews with some of Rivette’s actors, such as Bulle Ogier and Jean-Francois Stevenin. Best of all, the film beautifully captures Rivette the man, as both solitary cinephile and exploratory filmmaker.
Meanwhile, film scholar Paul Grant, who has translated Daney’s work, observes of the film:
[Daney strikes an] almost robust, bold figure [in] Le veilleur, who at times, looking a bit like Kelsey Grammer, seems to be intimidating Rivette in some strange way. This is odd because the film documents the meeting between a director (Rivette) and a writer (Daney) who, as a young man, wrote that Rivette was a decisive influence on his becoming a critic, and further, that as a boy he took on, championed and even enforced, Rivette’s objection towards a particular tracking shot without ever having seen it. So for those who have followed this affair, it might be anticipated that the big meeting between the two would be filled with gratitude and respect on Daney’s part, perhaps even a bit of fawning. But like Apu saying goodbye to his mother, such anticipated, even desired, sentimentality is wholly missing from the event. Perhaps this attitude is a relic of those unglamorous Cahiers years: the staunch anti-humanism, the party lines, etc. If there does exist some melancholic note in this film it is in the night, in Rivette’s seeming reluctance to speak, and in Godard’s close-up long takes of the director smiling timidly, silently, with his thin hair blowing just slightly in the breeze.