(director/writer: Jacques Rivette; screenwriters: Marilù Parolini/Pascal Bonitzer/Suzanne Schiffman; cinematographer: William Lubtchansky; editor: Nicole Lubtchansky; cast: Jane Birkin (Emily), Geraldine Chaplin (Charlotte), André Dussollier (Paul), Isabelle Linnartz (Béatrice), Sandra Montaigu (Eléonore), László Szabó (Virgil), Eva Roelens (Adriana / Justine), Facundo Bo (Silvano), Jean-Pierre Kalfon (Clémont Roquemaure), Pascal Bonitzer (Audience), Barbet Schroeder (Audience); Runtime: 169; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Cohn; Bluebell Films (PAL DVD); 1984-France-in French with English subtitles)

Even when playful, Rivette is a drag.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Founder of the French New Wave Jacques Rivette (“The Gang of Four”/”Secret Defense”/”Celine and Julie Go Boating”)directs this enigmatic and personal formal theatrical drama, that seems to want to give the finger to conventional cinema to show how he can get magic out of a banal plot. Too bad he’s betrayed by how conventional the story is shot, even if the theme is avant-garde. “Love” concerns itself with how it’s possible for magic to be played out in the fantasy-laden real-world, where art becomes a necessity for living a good life. It also tries to be a woman’s pic, descrying that women are betrayed by grasping men who try to suppress them. The theater piece is boring, pretentious and overlong to those like myself who cannot manage to get into Rivette’s unique role-playing world with any degree of comfort. It’s written by Rivette, Marilù Parolini, Pascal Bonitzer and Suzanne Schiffman.

The wealthy andenigmatic playwright Clémont Roquemaure (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) views a performance in an apartment where the audience is led around by guides who discreetly keep the audience to the side to observe the trite love triangle comedy/melodrama in which a man (Facundo Bo) attempts to juggle his two lovers, who have accidentally shown up at his apartment at the same time. The impressed superficial playwright invites the two uncouth visiting foreign French speaking actresses, Charlotte and Emily (Geraldine Chaplin/Jane Birkin), to act in a special play about a love triangle he has written, whose last act is still not finished. The play will be performed at Clémont’s artistically decorated suburban mansion only once, on Saturday evening, for his special guests. While rehearsing during the week, the ladies are given separate rooms and gourmet meals. The names of the actresses are taken from the Bronte sisters. Also living at the house is the magician Paul (André Dussollier), who has become Clément’s lover ever since the playwright’s lovely bride Béatrice (Isabelle Linnartz) mysteriously vanished or perhaps died. In deference to Dante, Paul’s assistant and the house servant for Clémont is named Virgil (László Szabó) and Clémont’s missing lover is named Beatrice.

It’s a tedious exercise that might be perceived as an intellectual essay on the art of illusion, as it plies the dark secrets of the theater world and relays the actresses fears, jealousies, premonitions and hallucinations. And if you are still awake for the climax, not an easy task, the play-within has some surprising confessional developments in its finally written third act whereby real-life mirrors fiction. Somehow this whimsical Gallic farce/melodrama never caught my interest or became enjoyable or seemed worth telling for any insights into life. Even when playful, Rivette is a drag.