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2019 | Book

Balzac Reframed

The Classical and Modern Faces of Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette

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About this book

This book examines the theoretical affiliations between the most notable proponent of literary realism, Honoré de Balzac, and two understated but key representatives of the French New Wave, Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette. It argues that their film criticism, which gradually led to the establishment of a common aesthetic vision of cinema (the “politique des auteurs”), owes more to Balzac and the nineteenth-century novel than to any intellectual trend of the immediate post-war period. By considering the films of Rohmer and Rivette as an extension of their writings (essays, film reviews, scriptwriting, novels and interviews), this volume analyses the changing and sometimes opposed ways in which they applied Balzacian principles and themes to their cinematic practice. Essentially, it understands the exchange between art forms, past traditions and contemporaneous currents as the overlooked yet common thread that links these three authors, through their own re-appropriations of classical and romantic aesthetics in their explorations of modern French society. In doing so, this study provides further nuance to the “conservative” versus “progressist” rupture that is generally assumed between the two directors, and offers an innovative reading of The Human Comedy in the light of post-war ideas on authorship, film adaptation, classicism and modernism.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter
Chapter 1. Introduction
Abstract
This chapter defines the motivations, scope and aims of Balzac Reframed: The Classical and Modern Faces of Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette. It begins by analysing the place of literature within the “politique des auteurs” group, with a particular emphasis on Rohmer and Rivette’s shared views on the concept of “academicism”. It also considers the classical connotations of the “young Turks” writings as a common affiliation with the nineteenth-century novel and point of departure of this long overdue investigation on Honoré de Balzac’s influence on the works of these two key but often neglected Nouvelle Vague figures.
Zahra Tavassoli Zea
Chapter 2. Two Distinguished Provincials at Paris
Abstract
This chapter posits the inseparability of body and soul as Balzac’s fundamental premise when composing The Human Comedy. It demonstrates the novelist and Rohmer’s corresponding views on the notion of morality and freedom by analysing the latter’s perspective on Alfred Hitchcock. It also clarifies the differences between nineteenth-century realist literature and the American novel to better situate Rohmer’s literary influences in the immediate post-war period, through excerpts from his one and only novel Élisabeth. By drawing parallels on Balzac and Maurice Schérer’s childhood and career struggles, it maintains that their vocations as novelist and filmmaker became a means to develop a research methodology that thinks the world as a whole. Further comparisons between Balzac and Rohmer (e.g. Le Signe du Lion vs. The Magic Skin) elaborate on the modern dynamics between vice and virtue and re-assess the two authors’ views on the value of money and natural resources.
Zahra Tavassoli Zea
Chapter 3. A Rohmerian Study of Manners
Abstract
This chapter begins by focusing on the relationship Balzac and Rohmer have built with their fictional characters through an investigation on their visions on womanhood, and with a particular emphasis on the social, cultural and economical profiles of the wife, the mistress and the spinster. It argues that Rohmer prolongs the sociological structures of nineteenth-century society as depicted by The Human Comedy through predominantly bourgeois and wordy protagonists whose discourse highlight the balance of power between upper and lower classes. A close analysis of The Marquise of O further develops Rohmer’s theorisation of language and highlights the dynamics between classicism and romanticism resulting from his inherently Balzacian approach to Heinrich von Kleist.
Zahra Tavassoli Zea
Chapter 4. Rivettean Cinema as the Acquisition of Hidden Knowledge
Abstract
Image associations between the Balzacian cenacle and the “young Turks” open this new chapter with the purpose of highlighting the importance of conspiracy and association in Rivette’s early years as a critic and filmmaker. It also explores the impact A Murky Business had on the director’s dialectical understanding of the relationship between fiction and history. An investigation on the mythological lineage between Ovid, Balzac and Bazin sheds light on the demiurgic aspirations of Rivettean cinema. More specially, the director provides solutions to the general feeling of disenchantment and anxiety of the post-1968 period by engaging with interdisciplinary contemporary currents, which aimed to surpass French’s society’s individualistic functioning. A close analysis of Out 1: Noli me Tangere demonstrates how Rivette faithfully integrates Balzac’s taste for secret societies and the return to epic, magical occurrences within radical film aesthetics.
Zahra Tavassoli Zea
Chapter 5. Modern Mythographers
Abstract
The main focus of this chapter is the comparative analysis of Rivette’s late adaptations of Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece and The Duchess of Langeais, through La Belle Noiseuse and Don’t Touch the Axe. Far from being a nostalgic appropriation, Balzac’s novella gives Rivette the perfect framework to update the myth of Pygmalion to contemporary settings and, as such, explore the relationship between literature, painting and cinema, both in terms of theory and praxis. Rivette’s exploration of space and time, through Balzac’s storyline and Bernard Dufour’s creative act, is a quest analogous to the painter Frenhofer, who aims to capture and immortalise life in its totality. While Rivette’s final adaptation sharply contrasts with his formerly loose transpositions, this chapter submits that the mise-en-scène of Don’t Touch the Axe carries within itself the director’s lifelong interest in classical tragedy. This chapter ends by a reflection on the universal themes of theatre, eros and thanotos, which prevail in both Balzac and Rivette’s literary and filmic corpora.
Zahra Tavassoli Zea
Chapter 6. All Roads Lead to Balzac…
Abstract
This chapter recapitulates the different ways Rohmer and Rivette have appropriated fundamental elements of Balzac’s worldview. More specifically, it shows that the affiliation between them and the author of The Human Comedy find its meeting ground in the new modes of realism which emerged in the immediate aftermath of WWII. The brotherhood between Bazin’s realist theory and Balzac’s literary aesthetics provides the framework within which Rohmer and Rivette re-interpreted the legacy of realism according to their own personal sensitivity and imagination. The classicism and modernity of these two directors is re-contextualised through wider considerations on their film criticism, practice and novelistic excerpts from Balzac.
Zahra Tavassoli Zea
Backmatter
Metadata
Title
Balzac Reframed
Author
Zahra Tavassoli Zea
Copyright Year
2019
Electronic ISBN
978-3-030-30615-1
Print ISBN
978-3-030-30614-4
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-30615-1