No description will ever do justice to this magnificent film, a masterpiece in anyone's terms, a work which could only be a piece of cinema and nothing else, and which is one of the most intelligent glances into the artistic process ever committed to celluloid. Rivette has always been the most unpredictable of the New Wave directors, quirky and experimental, temperamental and obtuse. However, La Belle Noiseuse has a purity of line and structure, conception and execution, which is the hallmark of all great art.
The film takes place on the country estate of the great painter Edouard Frenhofer, where a young couple has j'ust fallen into the artisf s orbit. Nicolas discovers that Frenhofer hasn't painted for a decade, since he abandoned work on a painting which featured his wife as his model. Nevertheless, Frenhofer becomes intrigued by the possibilities afforded by Nico-las's beautiful young lover, Marianne, and decides to pick up his brushes again. As the two of them retire to the studio, a subtle struggle begins to be played out. Frenhofer is determined to get to know his model, to strip her before his gaze, both physically and metaphorically, and while his behaviour is always proper, a battle of wills gradually emerges. Meanwhile, Nicolas becomes increasingly jealous of the intensifying relationship between the painter and his lover. As Frenhofer casts his model in humiliating poses, and as she slowly starts to assert her will, Rivette forces us to confront the pain, beauty, wilfulness and destructiveness of the artistic process with a rare and astounding insight.
La Belle Noiseuse is the culmination of over 30 years of filmmaking for Rivette, resulting in a disquieting and wise piece of work, full of constant surprises. • Piers Handling, Festival of Festivals, Montreal