Duelle (Jacques Rivette / France, 1976):
(Duelle (une quarantaine); Twhylight)

Paris, "the last night of the new moon for this winter." The central duel (there are several) is between Viva the Sun Goddess (Bulle Ogier) and Leni the Moon Godess (Juliet Berto), incognito deities amid "these stupid mortals." The MacGuffin is a priceless gem, "cursed and blessed" and kept by two dancers, a lovelorn prisoner of the Le Rhumba Club (Nicole Garcia) and a natty ballerino (Jean Babilée). A hotelier (Hermine Karaghuez) investigates the mystical welter, and loses herself in it. Jacques Rivette reveals his voluptuous, near Sternbergian side, it’s as if the scheming, swooning swells of Celine and Julie Go Boating had taken over. Characters take turns playing conspirators, seekers and pawns, the underpopulated city is haunted by such disco-dwelling figures as Jean Wiener and his phantom piano. Flowing capes, elbow-length gloves and silent-movie eye shadow are the attire of choice for skulking around parking garages and subway stations, a woman’s crimson dress against the supernatural blues of Paris right before morning weirdly suggests Feuillade in color. Arcane symbolism, arcane cinephilia: Lang’s clandestine baccarat table, Welles’s fish tank rendezvous, Ogier’s seduction of Babilée à la Claudette Colbert. Above all, Les Dames du Bois de Bologne -- Rivette quotes from it ("Je me vengerai"), then offers his own Cocteau rendition ("The dream is the aquarium of the night"). Every shot is a catalog of menace, my own favorite is the languid meander through the hotel corridor, with Babilée coming face to face with the goddess who’s stepped out of some unseen, windy interdimensional portal just around the corner. The beauty of this is the pictorial elucidation of a lack of certainty -- where "all walls can collapse" and "two and two no longer make four" -- that courts freedom and horror, exhilaration and dread in equal portions. Of all the willfully murky netherworlds of the Seventies (Téchiné’s Barocco, Malle’s Black Moon, Altman’s Quintet), Rivette’s is certainly the most magical. Cinematography by William Lubtchansky. With Claire Nadeau, and Elisabeth Wiener.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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