A new 35mm print of
“La Belle Noiseuse, Divertimento”

Hervé Pichard – January 10, 2017.
(Vers l’article original en français)

Sometimes, the photochemical triumphs over the digital…

The Cinémathèque Française, thanks to Les Films du Veilleur, is making a new 35mm print of La Belle Noiseuse, Divertimento by Jacques Rivette. This classic, if not to say traditional, approach to re-releasing a film is becoming less and less commonplace, even in the case of archives that are otherwise committed to photochemical film projection. The French Cinematheque is going the extra mile to continue to support this fragile and complicated skill, which is on the brink of extinction.

In the digital era, it is still possible to make a traditional 35mm release print thanks to, among others, the Hiventy laboratory, which provides the complete chain of post-production and restoration services – digital and photochemical – in its historic space in Joinville-le-Pont.

It is known that, even today, films prints remain the best guarantee of long-term preservation. The Commission of Support for the Digitization of Heritage Films, set up by the CNC, insists on an obligatory “return to film” after restoration; an indispensable step that encourages certain laboratories to continue to maintain technologies that imply a complex and costly infrastructure. This commission allows to respond to the ongoing problem which haunts conservators, and the photochemical laboratories’ activities enable the creation of film prints directly from original materials, without resorting to intermediary digital steps.

Despite their higher projection quality, new photochemical prints have been only rarely struck since 2013 (the year when nearly all cinemas in France became equipped with digital projectors). Today, holders of collections of heritage films have, a priori, little reason to acquire new film prints. Such a print can be projected only within the international archive network, in a few independent cinemas, or programmed at certain festivals that promote this form, and it is no longer destined for commercial releases in large cinema networks, even as they become more and more attached to the practice of re-releasing historic films.

Nevertheless, as one can frequently observe at the Cinematheque, new prints can sometimes enjoy surprising runs, on an international scale, at prestigious venues and sophisticated cinemas that are still equipped with the changeover system. The Cinematheque will strike a new print if it can no longer find a projectable version – one that is not too faded or fragile. A new print often allows the public to rediscover a forgotten film, such as Le Roi de Cœur by Philippe de Broca or the recently found short film Actua 1 by Philippe Garrel, both of which have been screened in numerous contexts to much acclaim. Thereby, new prints such as these turn out to be treasures for the collection.

This is now the case of La Belle Noiseuse: Divertimento (1991), an alternate, shorter version, a kind of variation on the theme of La Belle Noiseuse, Jacques Rivette’s famous 1991 film based on a short story by Balzac. This version was born out of a constraint: the co-production contract with the television channel FR3 had stipulated that the film must not exceed a length of two hours. Since La Belle Noiseuse reached twice the expected length, the director was forced to undertake a radical reduction.

However, according to its production file, Divertimento is not a simple re-edit of La Belle Noiseuse, if only because this shorter version is not based on the same takes as the longer one, but on double takes, which implies the re-creation of scenes that become very different in rhythm, acting style, and internal structure.

As far as the title, or the sub-title, of this shorter version, it alludes to an orchestra piece by Stravinsky. “Divertimento” is the title chosen by the composer for a relatively brief suite, composed in the early 1930s, which was based on Le Baiser de la Fée, the longest of Stravinsky’s ballets.

The filmmaker presents a contemporary story which tackles the question of doubt and artistic creation through the love triangle between a painter (Michel Piccoli), his wife (Jane Bikin), and his model (Emmanuelle Béart). In this version, a large part of the scenes set in the painter’s studio have disappeared, leaving a greater place to the character of the spouse. Thus, Liz the spouse and Marianne the model, simultaneously accomplices and rivals, are put on equal footing. They cross paths, observe and protect each other in the face of the painter’s all-devouring vocation. In an amusing detail, the film begins and ends on a shot of the artwork commissioner, alluding to the commission of this short version of the film, as well as to the link between the painter and Jacques Rivette, both wrapped up in similar processes of creation and introspection…

The new print was made from the image and sound internegative at the Hiventy laboratory. The color-timing strips, found together with the original materials, helped to respect the palette and light density of the few prints made at that time. The director of photography, Irina Lubtchansky, daughter of the film’s cinematographer William Lubtchansky, validated the tests before the creation of the print. The work was followed closely by Véronique Rivette, in collaboration with the French Cinematheque and the color timer José Saraiva.

The original materials and the new print will be preserved at the French Cinematheque, thus complementing its large Jacques Rivette archive. Indeed, the Cinematheque remains attentive to all ongoing restoration efforts of the filmmaker’s works. It had already released a new print of Hurlevent (1985) for the retrospective of the cinematographer Renato Berta. Last year, it restored the director’s recently found first short films, in partnership with Les Films du Veilleur and the Toulouse Cinematheque: Aux Quatre Coins, Le Quadrille and Le Divertissement (see the article “One Day, a Modern Cinema Had to Be Born”: Three Unreleased Short Films by Jacques Rivette).

A rare film, and even more so in 35mm and on the big screen, Jacques Rivette’s Divertimento will be projected at the opening of the series dedicated to Jane Birkin. A beautiful way to celebrate the talents of both, who collaborated on three films (four, counting Divertimento): L’Amour par Terre (1984), La Belle Noiseuse (1991) and 36 Vues du Pic Saint-Loup (2009).

Hervé Pichard is the film restoration project manager at the French Cinematheque.

Translation: Mariya Nikiforova