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L’amour fou (Blu-ray Review)

3 min read

L'amour fou is one of Jacques Rivette's darkest films, with themes of marital breakdown and domestic abuse. Sébastien (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) is directing a stage production of Racine's Andromaque, but at the same time his marriage with Claire (Bulle Ogier) begins to fall apart. When she, his lead, decides to leave the production after finding the rehearsals too intense, Sébastien chooses to recast her role with his ex. Meanwhile, an amateur film crew shoots the rehearsal stages on cheap film stock serving almost as avatars for us, the audience. 

For years, a 144p YouTube upload of a low-quality VHS rip was the only way most of us could watch the film. But Radiance's new Blu-ray bears a resplendent new restoration that premiered at Cannes last year and finally does the film justice.

Structurally, L'amour fou is an obvious precursor to Out 1, Rivette's 12-hour urban saga following a theatre troupe in Paris, as it also intersperses its main plotline with scenes of theatre rehearsal and asks us to find parallels between the characters' plights and their characters' plights. However, L'amour fou contains fewer tangential characters and scenarios and presents a somewhat more linear structure as implied by the conflict between the central couple. The most frequently-used adjective by critics in describing Rivette's work is ‘playful,' but it's difficult to use that word here. The film's structure is very defined, flitting between two core stages – the stage, and the domestic. Also, its two leads are obviously depressed, contrary to the liveliness of Céline and Julie or the driven painter and model of La Belle Noiseuse.

Rivette also worked in the theatre, having directed Anna Karina in a stage adaptation of Diderot's La Religieuse in 1963, and his obsession with exploring the performative nature of our everyday doings is evident here. By splitting the two planes of the domestic and the stage, the last days of the relationship are likened to theatre rehearsals; similar words are exchanged and the same sentiments are felt over and over, with a final result being on the horizon. Similarly, the film crew's footage is 16mm whereas the bulk of L'amour fou was shot on 35mm, and when viewed through the pristine new restoration, further emphasises the artificiality and illusion of theatre. 

In a 2007 print interview, Rivette was asked: “Why do you always use the credit: ‘mise-en-scene: Jacques Rivette' [‘Direction: Jacques Rivette'] rather than ‘a film by[…]'?”, to which he responded that a film is ultimately a collaborative work from multiple creative visions of whom the director is only one, so in essence there is no single ‘director'. His respect for his actors is seldom more evident than in L'amour fou, wherein everybody is fully fleshed-out and feels like a person with a life that exists beyond the narrative confines of a four-hour film. The standout is Bulle Ogier, whose Claire is delicate, unsure and thoroughly sympathetic, and the dynamic between Claire and Sébastien is utterly believable.

Films's release supplements the main feature with three newly-filmed presentations a 95-minute documentary on the film's production, an interview with restoration supervisor Caroline Champetier and a ‘video essay' by two Rivette fans along with a booklet containing new and old writing including an interview with Rivette and production notes.

L'amour fou is out now on Blu-ray