It begins and ends in the whiteness of the empty stage, the main actress walks off it as in Persona and the ensuing 252 minutes offer just as much harrowing disintegration. The show is Racine's Andromaque as mounted by Jean-Pierre Kalfon, who wants the play crystallized down to "people talking" yet mostly keeps his bemused cast going in circles; Bulle Ogier is his wife, the production's original Hermione now unraveling at home. The performers are methodically put through their paces, their repetitions are captured in real time (often through the TV crew's documentary grain), the Parisian night accommodates a Jerry Lewis shoutout, later on reworked in the abrupt pistol gag -- all of it is of equal importance to Jacques Rivette, filmed with a neutral instantaneity that grows voluminous, sinister, fatiguing, liberating. The heroine suspects infidelity and waxes paranoid ("I see all, I know all. I remember... and I wait") to Kalfon's drum accompaniment, moments later she's straddling her husband in bed, ready to sink a needle into his sleeping eyeball: Insanity seems to empty her, she idly records random sounds around their home and tries to pilfer the pooch she's said to resemble. The tensions are between life and theater and cinema and theater, plus the curving pan of 35mm and the darting zoom of 16mm -- Rivette looks for complete control in a work about the overthrow of authorship, in the process unburdening himself of the prevailing directorial apparatus. Kalfon ditches the rehearsals for some extended marriage therapy with Ogier, joining her in madness and dismantling their pad; the destruction of the doors certainly mirrors Rivette's own method, wallpaper is ripped and the bare walls are filled anarchically ("Morte la France" is prominently etched), a sequence of tortuous force and reverberations (Last Tango in Paris, La Grande Bouffe, The Seventh Continent). A work so dense that Cassavetes had only to glance its way to extract Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence, and so august that Rivette could only advance on it by finding the comedy in it with Céline and Julie Go Boating. With Maddly Bamy, Josée Destoop, Étienne Becker, Yves Beneyton, Dennis Berry, Liliane Bordoni, Celia, André Labarthe, Michel Delahaye, Françoise Godde, Dider Léon, Michèle Moretti, and Claude Richard. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce