Monday, January 22, 2007

La bande des quatre

Andrea and I bought ourselves a six-film set of Jacques Rivette on DVD for Christmas, and we just now finished watching the first of them, La bande des quatre.

My French has deteriorated over the past few years (it was, naturally, much better when Andrea lived in France and I was spending a lot of time there), so I enjoyed the feel of the movie as much as anything else (although I was able to follow the story well enough, a lot of the nuances surely were lost on me). The one thing I thought I would comment on here is the presence in this movie of a subtle variation on the old play-within-the-play motif.

Sometimes, movies contain scenes where actors are performing on stage. This creates subtle nuances, of course: the actor is playing an actor playing a role. A variation on this is the actor rehearsing—a scene with a somewhat different ontology, if you will: now the actor is playing an actor who is not losing himself in the role but, in fact, quite the opposite, as the actor rehearsing is often as self-conscious as the actor performing is not.

But La bande des quatre puts a new spin on this. Many of the scenes in the movie involve not the rehearsal of a play but preparation for a production of a play (by Marivaux) in an acting class. The actresses, then, are not playing actresses rehearsing but something even more self-conscious than that: student actresses learning, under the critical eye of their teacher, played by Bulle Ogier.

If this were a play-in-a-movie, the actresses would lose themselves in the roles of actresses losing themselves in their roles. If this were a rehearsal-in-a-movie, the actresses would lose themselves in the roles of actresses self-consciously working out their roles. But it is an acting-class-in-a-movie, so the actresses are losing themselves in the roles of actresses both self-consciously working out their roles and self-consciously pondering what the acting teacher thinks.

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