I don't know if it's ok to post this here, but I've recently finished a translation of the lengthy interview with Rivette at the beginning of the Cahiers-published
, the book about his unfinished films, which I've been slowly working through. I thought several posters here whose French is even rustier than mine may appreciate the info, some of which I don't think has been published in any English source. I'm working on the rest of the book as well, at a very languid pace (whenever I get time at work), and I'll be happy to update anyone interested on my progress. Mods, please let me know if this is teetering on the edge of copyright violation, and I'll happily remove it.
by Helene Frappat and Jacques Rivette
Year II, Phoenix, Marie and Julien: are these three projects that have never seen the light of day phantom films?
One could call them that: those are unrealized projects, interrupted at various stages of their development. Every filmmaker, of course, is in the same situation: it’s the common law of cinema, more than in other modes of expression. Compared to most, I have to consider myself lucky: of these unsuccessful projects, I have only three. Of course, between each of my films, I’ve dreamed about the projects that have remained in a nebulous state. For example, after L’Amour fou, I’d had the idea to make a film about a group of ten young men and women, in a provincial university town, a really Southern town like Aix-En-Provence: they’re used to being in the same places, between them there’s all sorts of intrigue, insignificant or tragic, some leave the city, others get married...We followed this group until three or four years later: theoretically, it’s always the same group, but, in fact, all the original members of the group have disappeared, the meeting points are not the same, the daily rituals, the secret codes have changed. There was as a common thread a very Chekhovian fantasy, a side very much “Paris Does Not Belong to Us”. This was at the end of ‘68, beginning of ‘69: I had the feeling that I was too far removed from my provincial adolescence; I was already too old and too Parisian, and I was afraid of making something false. So this project remained completely in my head, I never wrote a word of it, but it very quickly had a specific title: Out.
Close parentheses around Out Zero. By contrast, the three projects that I actually tried to bring about are, in order: Year II, between Paris Belongs to Us and The Nun; then Phoenix, between Out and Celine and Julie; and finally Marie and Julien, which was supposed to be the first film (and the third filming) of “Scenes from a Parallel Life,” ex-“Filles du feu.”*
Didn’t you also try to adapt Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions?
That’s a project that dates to after L’Amour fou. Initially, it was an idea had by Beauregard and Gruralt, which was to take Rousseau at the end of his life, after the Confessions (he would have been played by Romain Weingarten), and there would have been flashbacks of the young Rousseau, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud. This project didn’t get very far, insofar as Beauregard did not have the means to finance it. I can’t rank it among those I regret because, after The Nun, I didn’t much like the idea of redoing an eighteenth-century costume film. I had already refused to make The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, another of Gruralt’s projects, which Jean and his producer at that time offered me: I refused the idea of diving back into a costume film. And I was right, because Rosselini made it ten thousand times better than me!
So let’s get back to the first of your three substantial projects, or of your three phantom films.
Year II is likewise, in the beginning, one of Jean’s projects, and moreover, once finished, the synopsis was much more his than mine. During the editing of Paris Belongs to Us, Jean often dropped in to see us. I remember that one day, he brought me his stage adaptation of The Nun, adding that it would be more a project for the cinema. I responded that it was indeed a great subject for a film, but that we would never be able to convince a producer. A few months later, we met up again; in the meantime, he came across the Memoirs of Madame de la Rochejaquelein, which gave him this idea for a film about the end of the Chouannerie: it pleased me right away. As far as I remember, we wrote it very quickly, in a few weeks, the two of us, between June and July ‘60. I went to see the two or three producers that I knew, Braunberger, Dauman, one or two beginners...it was total refusal, without even a word: they all seemed to think it was the most stupid project ever presented to them! Then Breathless came out, and Beauregard told Jean-Luc to bring him all of his friends. So I met Beauregard with this undying project Year II. A few days later, when I went back to see him, it was the same thing. But, at the same time, he very kindly told me: “I don’t want to do that one, but there’s no lack of projects. Look, two days ago, I reread The Nun, it would make a great movie!” -- the beginning of another long adventure.
Why did all the producers react so cagily when faced with this project Year II?
It scared them, they were all terrified! They looked at me as if this project had fallen from I don’t know what planet...Saturn!
Did Phoenix come from the same planet?
It’s very possible: in effect, Phoenix came after Out, another monstrous film, never released, which no television network wanted...I don’t remember the initial idea, possibly sparked by the last two episodes of Out, where the fantastic gradually contaminates the “real” world: soon enough, I had this idea of Sarah Berhnardt meets The Phantom of the Opera, and I immediately thought of Jeanne Moreau; and then I started talking about it with Eduardo de Gregorio, with Suzanne Schiffman...one morning, the telephone rings: it’s Jeanne, who proposed that I direct Phèdre, with her, in the theater. I told her that I was just in the middle of writing a script with her in mind, she immediately replied to me: “Ah! If it’s a film, then I’d prefer it.” There was never another question about Phèdre...during the editing of Out, the resemblance of Juliet to Jeanne, in some close-ups, struck us, Nicole [Lubtchansky] and I: and that resemblance became the engine for the whole script. Ultimately, to succeed in drawing up this nuisance, which we needed to present to the Commission of “Avance sur Recettes” and the eventual producers, we all three found ourselves one morning at Suzanne’s around a tape recorder, and we told each other the whole story from the first shot to the last, in the most detail possible; it’s from this tape that I wrote the scenario. It’s the last writing I ever did.
Why wasn’t Phoenix ever made?
We had the maximum “Avance sur Recettes”, and a co-production agreement with the most prominent channel of the time. The problem is that I absolutely did not want to repeat the experience of The Nun, a costume film made on a shoestring; I wanted everything to be very beautiful. It was absolutely necessary to build the main set of Deborah’s apartment, the costumes had to be magnificent; and the whole film had to play with ever-changing lights. With Suzanne, we’d made up an estimate: for the film to make sense, we couldn’t go below it. But the advance and the television only accounted for half of this budget, and I didn’t find a single producer who agreed to set off on the adventure: the only one who showed benevolence with regard to the project is Jean-Pierre Rassam, already neck-deep, that summer of ‘73, in two very expensive projects: Bresson’s Lancelot and Ferreri’s Custer-Trou des Halles**. He allowed me to use his production house for all the preliminary work: he “hosted” our project; but he could not go any further, he had told me from day one.
How was the project Marie and Julien born?
Initially, there was this crazy idea to chain together four shootings. The few pages for which we’d gotten an advance were devoted specifically to the themes, more or less mythical, which were to link the four films, each of them also fitting into a traditional genre (love story, thriller, western, musical). We started with number two (Duelle), then we went on a month later with number three (Noroît). These two shootings, each in its own way, had been exhausting, but I had been caught in a trap of my own making: it was materially impossible to back out of shooting the third film. As best as I could, I pretended for two days; on the third I vanished, and the doctor from the insurance company put an end to this simulacrum. No complete scenario was ever written: during the three weeks of preparation (and in parallel with the scoutings and the choice of the other actors), all the preliminary work on our story was kept to the conversations that we had, every afternoon, Leslie Caron, Albert Finney, Claire Denis and I, conversations from which Claire wrote this skeleton of continuity, which allowed us to establish the workflow, and which is all that remains today of the project (with rushes of the two days of filming - sequence 35, around a telephone booth -, which remain to this day impossible to locate).
The principal motif was a variation of the old romantic theme of “la morte amoureuse,”*** who must be loved by a mortal to try to lift the curse forbidding her from the land of the dead. The other ambition of the project was to tell a story of amour fou between a man and a woman in their forties: At Long Last Love, as Cole Porter said. But we hesitated between several endings and were counting on the filming to decide. Today, twenty-six years later, I am, unfortunately, unable to reconstruct an ending: the reader will choose one according to his mood at the moment.
It’s strange to note that Marie and Julien is, of the three phantom films, the one that was closest to seeing the light of day, and at the same time the one that exists in the least complete state.
There must be a reason: the laws of the world of phantoms escape us.
* The project of the series “Les Filles du Feu” consisted of four films: a “love story” (Marie and Julien), a fantasy film (Duelle), a sort of Western (Noroît), and a musical comedy. Only two films have been made: the 2nd, Duelle, and the 3rd, Noroît, shot at the beginning and the end of spring 1975, and assembled the following year.
** Marco Ferreri’s Don’t Touch the White Woman! (1974)
*** Translation note: “La Morte Amoureuse” literally translates to “the dead (woman) in love,” but it is also the title of a well-known French short story. As the original work presents this phrase in quotes, I’ve opted to leave it untranslated to preserve the potential allusion.