Once thought an impossible-to-see legend of cinephilia, Jacques Rivette’s multi-part epic has been revived, restored, and is available for your delirious immersion. It was originally conceived for French television by the director and Cahiers du cinéma editor and critic, but never properly shown. In its astoundingly adventurous, freeform creation—taking improvisation beyond dialog and performance into storytelling itself—the opus represents what might be considered the last great gesture of the French New Wave.
Inspired as much by 19th century literature—notably Balzac’s conspiratorial Histoire des treize—as the fantastic multi-episode serial cinema of the silent era, like the films of Les vampires director Louis Feuillade, Rivette and his collaborators proceed to radically update these old stories and forms to the present. By casting straight from French cinema’s late 60s and early 70s zeitgeist—including New Wave axiom Jean-Pierre Léaud, along with Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, Bernadette Lafont, and Michael Lonsdale—and shooting on 16mm in a loose and inspired style, Rivette radically combines the old and the new.
As the film’s main characters, played by Leaud and Berto, scramble around Paris in search for a legendary secret society, their search for a puppet master pulling the strings on reality becomes a search for life’s meaning—and mirrors the sprawling film’s own quest for a story to see through to the end. If in 1959 Breathless felt like the beginning of an entirely new kind of cinema, in 1971 Jacques Rivette and his co-conspirators—including his essential co-director Suzanne Schiffman—re-invented the cinema once again for a new, post-May ’68 generation. One can only imagine its impact if it had been properly released at the time of its making.