La Belle Noiseuse

Winner of Cannes’ grand prix in 1991, Jacques Rivette’s absorbing if leering four-hour free adaptation of Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece concerns the work of a painter (Michel Piccoli) with his beautiful and mainly nude model (Emmanuelle Beart), plus the input and pressures of the painter’s wife and former model (Jane Birkin), the model’s boyfriend, and an art dealer who used to be involved with the painter’s wife. The complex forces that produce art are the film’s obsessive focus, and rarely has Rivette’s use of duration to look at process been so spellbinding; hardly a moment is wasted. Rivette’s superb sense of rhythm and mise en scene never falters, and the plot has plenty of twists. With exquisite cinematography by William Lubtchansky, beautiful location work in the south of France (mainly at an 18th-century chateau), and drawings and paintings executed by Bernard Dufour. The title translates roughly as the beautiful nutty woman; it’s also the title of the masterpiece the painter is bent on finishing. In French with subtitles. (JR)

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