9th June, 2014
I've been an avid follower of the MoC collection since the collection itself was only 10 titles deep. Picking a favourite disc out of the 100+ that I own is therefore pretty difficult. I discovered the early cinema thanks to the series, and was introduced to a number of filmmakers who I now consider to be top tier favourites thanks to their inclusion in the eclectic series. The collection has enabled me to flesh out my interest in certain filmmakers, whose work had only previously been released in scarce editions elsewhere, and has filled in all important gaps in the cases of others. Masters Of Cinema even pushed me in to making the leap to Blu-ray, when City Girl was initially announced to be a Blu-ray only release (a decision since rescinded, but a wonderful disc nonetheless).
In choosing a favourite I’ve opted for a disc that I feel best represents the aims and remit of Masters Of Cinema, with a release that would otherwise have struggled to receive such a well-produced audio/visual representation on disc had such duties been left to the devices and whims of the major studios.
The final film of director Jacques Rivette’s middle period, Le Pont du Nord is appropriately described as a “labyrinthian" experience in most blurbs, with its tale of two women who follow a breadcrumb trail through the streets of Paris in search of answers to the mystery that has greeted the older of the two upon her release from prison. Rivette’s middle period stands as one of the most important and exciting runs of cinema ever, with the likes of Celine And Julie Go Boating and Merry-Go-Round nestled next to the legendary Out 1, the director’s 770 minute-long epic, and a work which has reached near-mythical status amongst cinephiles. Until recently very little of this run was available on home video in English-language-friendly editions, with Eureka’s edition of Le Pont du Nord , a film which is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of them all, coming at the end of a year in which more started to become visible.
The French cinema, especially those films created by the former filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague, took on something of a dystopian edge in the 1980s. Be it Rohmer's L’Ami de mon amie (My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend), and the utopias on the fringes of Paris designed to house the newly-engineered go-getters of the 1980s, or the strange psycho-sexual hotel meet up in Godard's Slow Motion, the kaleidoscope cinema of Antoine Doinel and the New York Herald Tribune was something of a half-remembered dream only a generation later. One might posit that Rivette's Le Pont du Nord takes place in a Paris on it's way to Alphaville, with Orwellian secrecies the natural extension to the mysterious organisation tracing every step made by Bulle Ogier’s Marie. Kung fu and walkie talkies position Baptiste, played by Ogier’s own daughter Pascale, as an 80s crime fighter of the strangest order.
Perhaps it's something to do with the way that Paris in the 1980s was neither here nor there. Caught somewhere between the cultural hub of the 1960s and 70s, and the world centre that it would become as the century closed out, the 80s have a very specific feel to them, of everything and nothing at once, a grandeur captured in the opening reel of Le Pont du Nord as Baptiste circles the city's beautiful statues on a clapped out old motorcycle. While the upstarts of the Cinéma du look would later be recognised as the internationally dominant face of French cinema during this period, the mainstays of the industry, filmmakers such as Maurice Pialat, Robert Bresson and the aforementioned former young turks of the Cahiers du cinéma produced work immeasurably far more interesting.
The Masters Of Cinema release of the film is a great looking disc, with every inch of the digital real-estate serving to hold the film. While this means that there are no on-disc extras, the hefty booklet more than makes up for this, and is essential reading. Here’s hoping more Rivette follows soon...
Adam Batty is the Editor of Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, and a programmer of film. An unashamed auteurist, he lives in the North of England.Hopelies