Just now concluding its majestic 16-day, world theatrical premiere run at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music is the newly restored digitized print of Jacques Rivette’s monumental, colossal, staggering (and other superlatives) 1971 masterpiece Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, a film that many (myself included) never expected to see on the big screen. Not only did the film “disappear” shortly after its release, but it runs a posterior-numbing 12 hours and 55 minutes, so presenting the film in its entirety would be a daunting challenge to any but the most dedicated repertory arts venue (enter—and kudos to—BAM).
Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, not to be confused with its condensed, 4 hours and 13 minute sister version from 1974, Out 1: Spectre, has been lovingly resurrected by Carlotta Films U.S., a process supervised and approved by the film’s original director of photography, Pierre-William Glenn. We mostly have to take Carlotta’s word for the comparative quality of the restoration, since few people saw the film on its initial and extremely limited go-round and theatrical screenings in the intervening 44 years have been virtually non-existent. But it looks great no matter how you slice it. A complete version does exist as a German language DVD box set, but we’re talking apples and oranges here.
Rivette’s magnum opus, as it’s been called, showcases the former Cahiers du Cinema critic-turned-director’s free flowing, highly improvised style with an iconic cast that includes, among others, Jean-Pierre Leaud and Pierre Baillot, as well as Celine and Julie Go Boating cast members Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, and Barbet Schroeder (perhaps I should mention that Rivette’s Celine and Julie’ is one of my all-time favorite films). In what fellow French New Wave director Eric Rohmer calls “a cornerstone in the history of modern cinema” and The New York Times’ Dennis Lim dubs “the cinephile’s holy grail,” Out 1’ is staged around two theatrical troupes performing avant-garde interpretations of plays by Greek tragedian Aeschylus. Into the mix are woven a mysterious con artist (Berto) and a deaf-mute street musician (Leaud) in search of a secret society as, with its labyrinthine, overlapping structure, this one-of-a-kind cinematic experience paints a very real picture of the dashed dreams of world-weary Parisians following the civil unrest of May, 1968.
As with any film of this length—Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz being the most obvious example—you don’t just watch it, you absorb it, settling into your familiar seat with a comfy pillow (or two), plenty of bottled water, and no other commitments for the foreseeable future.
Can’t-miss cineaste events such as this are few and far between, so it’s to BAM’s credit that they conveniently—and kindly—scheduled the film’s eight “episodes” back-to-back, four on Saturday, four on Sunday, over two separate weekends this November in order for purists (or masochists) to immerse themselves in the complete cycle. If you did miss it, well… there’s always the 5-disc, Region 2-only version on the slightly smaller screen for the time being.
(c) 2015 David N. Butterworth