Report: Letter from Paris
Gilles Jacob

The barricades -- or les evenements de mai to use the standard euphemism -- have left the little world of French film-making looking a trifle battered. It is possibly the only concern not to have profited from the greatest strike of French industrial society apart from material benefits and shortened working hours for studio staff (which will make it even more difficult for young filmmakers to set up a production). On top of this, several big American companies have shifted productions away from France to more temperate climes; which means that thousands of working hours arc lost to French studios.

Back in mid-May, however, M. Holleaux, the present director of the Centre National du Cinema, was only waiting to be asked to agree to concessions. But how could one negotiate with someone whose authority you have denied, at the head of an organization you have threatened to burn down? Today the State has regained its control. and some of the revolutionaries who vilified the Centre National and dragged Holleaux's name through the mud arc now first in the queue to ask for an advance on box-office receipts or a place on an official committee.

One point which might quite easily have been negotiated then by the Etats Generaux or the Societe des Realisateurs is the suppression or limitation of censorship. And a suppression of censorship would have made life easier for Cecil Saint-Laurent, whose first feature, 48 Heures d'Amour, now runs some risk of a censor's ban. In the last resort, the Minister of Information is obliged to cut when faced by a film which is said to skate across the thin ice which separates the erotic from the pornographic.

This possible ban acts as a reminder of another, rather different, censorship case: the lengthy ban imposed by a different minister on Rivette's La Religieuse; which, coincidentally, was made by the same producer, Georges de Beauregard. Rivette's stubborn champion not so long ago, Beauregard has now abandoned him in their difference of opinion about Rivette's latest film, L'Amour Fou. It is about a couple who are going through a crisis, and the repercussions on them of a play (Andromaque) which they are rehearsing. Without trying to rival Andy Warhol, but satisfying an old dream of making a film about a film being made, Rivette set himself no limits in running time and allowed his leading players, Jean-Pierre Kalfon and Bulle Ogier, complete freedom. The result: a film running 4 hours and 12 minutes, not counting the interval.

His agitated producers, Beauregard and Tenoudji, asked for cuts. As Rivette refused, on the grounds that his experiment is pointless without this freedom from conventional time-limits and traditional boundaries, an 'abridged' two-hour version was made. In spite of a successful test screening of the 4-hour version at the Cinematheque, the distributors are still unconvinced. Rivette remains unmoved: no shortened version, no mutilation. An art house has agreed to show L' Amour Fou in its complete version, provided that the abridged film is not released simultaneously, as the producers want, on the ordinary commercial circuit. Their reasoning is understandable: in an age of speed, audiences are accustomed to taking the shortest route from one point to another. At the time of writing, the debate continues. Rivette, once again, has still to find his way out of the tunnel-and lives up to his reputation as a cineaste maudit.

In any case, if the cut version is shown, he won't put his name to it: a symbolic gesture which echoes one made recently by John Berry, who has disowned the tinkering done by his producer on A Tout Cosser, and brought a legal action in which he has lost the first round. Rivette bringing an action against Beauregard? It might not have the same publicity impact as the La Religieuse affair, but at least it would be not unamusing to see the two old comrades in arms fighting this time on opposite sides of the barricades, those famous barricades where we began...

Originally appeared in Sight & Sound (Autumn? 1968) p. 22-3.