It’s difficult to think of a harder film to sell than Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: Noli Me Tangere (1971). Over 12 hours long and devoid of an easily describable plot, Out 1 has spent nearly half a century as an elusive object, glimpsed only at the odd film festival, late-night European TV broadcast or film torrenting website (the four-hour cut, Out 1: Spectre (1972), has been only slightly less inaccessible). Yet, through a combination of its obscurity, championing by film critics such as Jonathan Rosenbaum and impressive personnel – Jacques Rivette, perhaps the Nouvelle Vague’s most radical filmmaker, and a formidable cast including such luminaries as Jean-Pierre Léaud, Bernadette Lafont and Michael Lonsdale – Out 1 has long enjoyed a cult following among cinephiles.

In January 2016, only a couple of weeks before Rivette’s death, Out 1 finally bid adieu to its ghostly realm with its first completely English-friendly DVD editions: a parallel release by Carlotta Films in the USA and Arrow Films in the UK, both featuring newly restored prints of both versions of the film along with extensive extras (including, notably, a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s ‘Out 1’ Revisited).

Robert Fischer has played an instrumental role in all home video releases of Out 1 (the other DVD set was produced by absolut Medien in Germany back in 2013). A Munich-based film historian and founder of production house Fiction Factory, he supervised the absolut Medien and Carlotta projects (he also shared a production credit on Arrow’s Jacques Rivette Collection and co-directed the aforementioned documentary). Previously, he has directed and produced a plethora of documentaries on figures such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Douglas Sirk and Max Ophüls. I spoke with Fischer over the course of an email exchange in order to get a sense of the challenges involved in bringing such a work to DVD, and what Out 1 and Rivette mean to him.

 

A few years ago – at least, in the Anglophone world – Out 1 was a film that had only been seen by a privileged few, mostly at a handful of public screenings. When did you first encounter it, and where would you say its importance lies as a cinematic work?

In Europe, that situation regarding Out 1 has always been a bit different, especially in Germany. My first exposure to Out 1 must have been in December 1972 when Spectre was shown on German television on two consecutive nights during the Christmas holidays. That was the world premiere of Spectre, just over a year after the legendary Le Havre screening of the long version and only a couple of months after Rivette finished editing that shorter version. I was 18 at the time and duly impressed and blown away.

From the very beginning, the key figure in presenting Out 1 not only in Germany but in general was Wilfried Reichart, who had just started as a commissioning editor (i.e. buyer and programmer) at regional broadcaster WDR in Cologne, spoke French and loved the Nouvelle Vague. He had met with Jacques Rivette and producer Stéphane Tchal Gadjieff in Paris and quickly became friends with them. Wilfried also produced interviews and documentaries to be aired in addition to the films themselves and to contextualise them, much as we do today with our bonus features for DVD or Blu-ray special editions. So for Out 1: Spectre’s world premiere on German TV, he went to Paris and filmed a long interview with Rivette for his 45-minute documentary The Mysteries of Paris. Both Out 1: Spectre and Wilfried’s documentary must have been seen by roughly a hundred thousand German cinephiles back in 1972!

Out 1

The long version, Out 1: Noli me tangere, did indeed develop a mythical status for almost 20 years. As you know, Rivette completed postproduction on Noli me tangere as late as May 1990. Again, this was only possible thanks to a pre-sale deal Wilfried had arranged between Stéphane and WDR, and again German audiences had easy access to it when all eight parts were shown on television in April and May 1991. That’s when I first saw Noli me tangere, as I had missed its German premiere at the Forum in Berlin two months earlier. And again Wilfried, this time bringing along Rivette expert Karlheinz Oplustil, had gone to Paris to film yet another set of interviews on the making of Out 1. These were edited into shorter pieces between four and eight minutes and accompanied seven of the eight parts when first aired on WDR. This probably more than anything shows how much love and care Wilfried Reichart and his colleagues at WDR invested in their work, and how much respect they had not only for a filmmaker like Rivette, but also for the audience in front of their TV sets at home.

For me, the importance of Out 1 as a cinematic work lies in the mere fact of its own existence and in the riddle of its nature. It is as much a documentary about avant-garde theatre and cinema in Paris in 1970 as it is a film of pure fantasy (the phantastique), and it is as much a film that is the expression of its director’s vision and his personal passions and obsessions as it is a film that has found its form and content during its making, thanks to the inspired improvisations of its cast and crew who all seem to have worked, for the duration of the shoot, in a state of grace. This is cinema in its purest, freest form (much as the theatre that it depicts in some scenes is theatre in its purest, freest form).

You mention the key role of Wilfried Reichart in financing Out 1‘s distribution and restoration almost from the beginning. What was his contribution to your documentary The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s ‘Out 1’ Revisited, which appears on both the Carlotta and Arrow sets?

For Wilfried and me, the new project was always a continuation of his earlier documentary on Rivette, and it was always clear that we wanted to keep his original title, even at the risk of confusion. For the German Out 1 box set a few years ago, Wilfried and his son Kolya prepared a 20-minute version of the original 45-minute documentary, keeping the parts where Out 1 is discussed; and for The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s ‘Out 1’ Revisited, we again kept all of Rivette’s statements on Out 1 from Wilfried’s 1972 interview, added as much as made sense from Wilfried and Karlheinz Oplustil’s 1990 interview, and went back to Paris to revisit most of the locations and round up some of the key players from the original shoot for new on-camera interviews.

So, Wilfried’s role in the new documentary is twofold, as he not only contributed the archival interviews with Rivette, [Michel] Delahaye and [Jacques] Doniol-Valcroze, but was also there with me in Paris for most of the new shoots. It was a privilege to have Wilfried as a partner on this documentary, and our shoots with Hermine Karagheuz and Bulle Ogier were probably the ones I most enjoyed among the hundreds of interviews that I have filmed since I began in 1999 – thanks to these great actresses, but also thanks to Wilfried’s presence, questions and support.

For the past 45 years, he and Stéphane Tchal Gadjieff have remained the best of friends, and during that week in Paris, the three of us would meet almost daily and discuss the results of our day’s work over dinner. Right on the first day, Stéphane introduced us to Véronique Manniez-Rivette, Jacques’s wife, who was extremely helpful and supported our project from the start, contributing many of the rare documents that you see in our film. It was heartbreaking to know that she would go back to Rivette after each of our meetings, without any of us, not even her, being able to know how much of what she would be telling him about the progress of our project – and, for that matter, of the recent Out 1 restoration – really would get through to him. But no matter the degree of Rivette’s awareness, we knew and cherished that Véronique was our physical link to him, and we felt his presence through her, not spiritually (perhaps even that, who am I to exclude it?), but intellectually. We were so lucky.

In your discussions with Véronique, Stéphane or Wilfried, did you feel like you gained many new insights into what Rivette was like as a person? I wonder if this mysterious aura he cultivated was common to at least some members of that group – I’ve read a lot about Rohmer too, for instance, but know very little about his life away from the camera.

No, nothing that would go beyond what we know. But Wilfried has a theory about this: Rivette, in so many ways spokesman of the Nouvelle Vague, always was and always remained the most secretive among that group of directors and friends. Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer and Truffaut all found, over the course of their careers, their style, their subjects and their view of the world and thus made themselves recognisable. Not so Rivette. He was the mysterious one, always focusing on the inexplicable and presenting it as a matter of fact.

Rivette is a paradoxical figure: on the one hand, a core member of the Nouvelle Vague, one of cinema’s most famous movements; on the other, a director whose films are still not all that well known. How does this affect releases of his more obscure or challenging films, commercially speaking? Were you particularly concerned about Out 1‘s viability as a DVD release – that is, whether its “cult” status would translate into sales?

Perhaps it’s true that Rivette’s films have tended to be less visible and available than those of his peers, but I think the reasons for that are mostly pragmatic: Rivette was the least prolific of the New Wave directors, and the running time of his films exceeded by far those of “normal” films, resulting in their commercial exploitation being much more difficult and sometimes outright impossible. Add to that the experimental, unique nature of his narratives and style and it becomes safe to say that to be “commercial” or not was probably never an issue for Rivette. The real paradoxical figure – or hero – in this context is Stéphane Tchal Gadjieff, the producer of four of his films.

As for the commercial potential of Rivette’s films on DVD, you’d have to ask the people who run the DVD labels that have released Out 1 and other films of his. Sales figures are usually the best kept secret in this business, but we know that Arrow’s Rivette box set is said to be limited to 3,000 copies. Mind you: 3,000 – not 30,000! Nobody will get rich on that, same as neither Rivette nor Tchal Gadjieff got rich on the original films. Let’s all just hope that these labels will be able to continue in this vein. But when was the Nouvelle Vague ever “commercial”? I think you have to be as dedicated to such a cause today as you had to be when these films were made.

Out 1

With DVD rental stores closing all over the place and film viewers at home increasingly turning to streaming and downloading, do you worry that such huge home video projects will no longer be possible in the very near future? Are we running out of time to see a decent DVD or Blu-ray release of Rivette’s L’amour fou (1969), for instance?

We’re talking about two different things here. Don’t forget that the restoration of Out 1 was financed by the CNC, the French government’s cinema department. Not even the combined financial efforts of home video labels in different countries could have come up with the sum that was necessary to pull this off. These projects are never “commercial”, unless we settle on figures that determine what is commercial and under what circumstances and to whom. So the preservation and restoration of what the French so wonderfully call their film patrimony – patrimoine cinématographique – is the most important thing and should be a universal goal.

The “market” – small or big, always relative – is now in DVD and Blu-ray and will increasingly be in video on demand and streaming in the future. So yes, provided that the necessary funding is secured, I’m rather positive that we will see a 4K restoration of L’amour fou within the next couple of years, and perhaps it will not be too late for it to come out on DVD and Blu-ray.

In your documentary, Pierre-William Glenn refers to the notorious scene of Jean-Pierre Léaud breaking down in his apartment, which Rivette excised from the final cut in 1990. Are we to presume this footage is lost forever? If not, was there any discussion on whether it should be included in some capacity on the DVD releases?

Stéphane says he doesn’t know where the footage is or if it still exists. But even if it did, I think Véronique and Stéphane would have respected Rivette’s decision and not put it back in.

Here’s another footnote: definitely lost forever, because her scenes were planned but never filmed, is the character of Sophie, for which Rivette had already cast Marie-France Pisier. He had conceived of Sophie as the leader of a gang of revolutionaries. She would have entered the game only in the sixth episode. Frédérique was to meet Sophie and become a member of her group, trying to find out more about the 13 through them. Later, Nicolas (AKA Arsenal/Papa/Théo, one of Lili’s friends) would have also joined the gang, convincing them to plan and execute an “exemplary action”.

There was another actor who came very close to appearing in the film, and in the end didn’t: Sami Frey. In what was supposed to be the very last scene in the film, Emilie was to visit Warok, where she would have not only encountered a disillusioned Colin, but also Sami Frey in the role of her husband Igor (who, in the finished film, is often spoken of but remains unseen). The last phrase in Rivette’s six-page outline reads: “Warok makes a new pact with Igor”.

Returning to The Mysteries of Paris, you did an impressive job of tracking down so many of the actors and technicians who worked on the film. Was there anyone you were particularly disappointed not to be able to include, such as Léaud?

Of course it’s too bad that we couldn’t convince Léaud to participate, and there are a few others – not many – who just didn’t respond, like Françoise Fabian. I would have loved to revisit some of the locations with her, like the stairs on the Île aux Cygnes leading down from the Pont de Grenelle to the river Seine, or the terrace at Cité Véron just behind Moulin Rouge where Fabian’s character Lucie meets with a blackmailing Frédérique, played by Juliet Berto. But we made sure to go to these locations even without her so that you can see how they look today: exactly as they did 45 years ago!

Another actor who regrettably is absent from our documentary is Michèle Moretti, who was ill when we were shooting. Before Out 1, Moretti and Bulle Ogier had both already appeared in L’amour fou. Wilfried and I recently decided not to wait until someone finally untangles the licence problems that are keeping L’amour fou from getting restored and released, and instead to start shooting Jacques Rivette’s ‘L’Amour Fou’ Revisited as soon as possible. I can’t wait to set up a reunion between Ogier and Jean-Pierre Kalfon! And who knows, maybe this time Michèle Moretti will be participating too…

One tends to think of Rivette – and particularly the Rivette of L’amour fou, Out 1 and Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) – as a revolutionary filmmaker. If his spirit lives on in the cinema of today, where can we find it?

As part of the Nouvelle Vague core group, Rivette is certainly a revolutionary, and he and Godard have always remained revolutionaries, where the others have not. But while there’s no doubt that Rivette was a free-spirited, ever inventive and highly personal artist, we probably wouldn’t call these qualities revolutionary when we associate them with abstract painters or jazz musicians, because with them they are a matter of course. Rivette loved films, classic and modern; he famously admired Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997) and Showgirls (1995) and regarded them as works of art. As you say, Rivette’s influence is not one of style but of spirit and thus hard to identify or pin down. If a filmmaker is willing to learn from Rivette that everything is permitted, possible and plausible as long as you stay true to yourself (as Verhoeven also does with his films, as different as they may be from Rivette’s in style and substance), then all is not lost.

About The Author

David Heslin is an editor and film critic residing in Melbourne, Australia. He edits Screen Education and Senses of Cinema, and has been published in The Age, Overland and The Conversation. David was a participant in the Melbourne International Film Festival’s 2015 Critics Campus program.