La Belle Noiseuse | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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La Belle Noiseuse


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Jacques Rivette's greatest film since the 70s is one of the most penetrating examinations of the process of art making on film. It concerns the highly charged work of a figurative painter (Michel Piccoli, giving the performance of his career) with his beautiful and mainly nude model (Manon of the Spring's Emmanuelle Beart), but also the complex input and pressures of the painter's wife and former model (Jane Birkin), the model's boyfriend (David Bursztein), and an art dealer who used to be involved with the painter's wife (Gilles Arbona). The complex forces that produce art are the film's obsessive focus, and rarely has Rivette's use of duration to look at process been as spellbinding as it is here. The film runs for four hours, but the overall effect is mesmerizing and perpetually mysterious (as Rivette always is at his best), and not a moment is wasted. Rivette's superb sense of rhythm and mise en scene never falters, and the plot has plenty of twists. Freely adapted from Balzac's novella The Unknown Masterpiece by Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent, and Rivette, with exquisite cinematography by William Lubtchansky, beautiful location work in the south of France (mainly a 19th-century chateau), and drawings and paintings executed by Bernard Dufour. The title, incidentally, translates roughly as "the beautiful nutty woman" and is also the title of the masterpiece the painter, emerging from ten years of retirement, is bent on finishing. Winner of the grand prize at the 1991 Cannes film festival. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, January 24 through 30)

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