The name Jacques Rivette is often synonymous with French cinema’s New Wave movement, a paradigm shift in filmmaking that gave rise to some of the most innovative cinematic voices of the 20th century. Known for his eclectic style, his distinct way of marrying surrealism with the aesthetics of reality, Rivette’s contribution to French and global cinema is profound and lasting. His 1998 film “Secret Defense” exemplifies his craft at its best – a film that is enigmatic and deeply layered, traversing the human psyche’s convoluted terrain with elegance and profundity.
The plot of “Secret Defense” centers on Sylvie Rousseau, a research scientist, portrayed with incredible depth by Sandrine Bonnaire. After discovering a long-held family secret about her father’s death, Sylvie embarks on a journey of retribution. As the narrative unfolds, we encounter a series of turns, subplots, and character developments that underline Rivette’s gift for intricate storytelling.
Rivette’s genius lies in his storytelling’s subtlety and the psychological depths he explores through his characters. “Secret Defense” is an exploration of the human psyche, a psychological maze with elements of a classical Greek tragedy unfolding in the modern world. Rivette creates a narrative structure where the protagonist’s inner struggles echo the intricate plotline. This delicate intertwining of external and internal realities is one of Rivette’s distinct contributions to French cinema.
In “Secret Defense,” Rivette masterfully navigates the genre of a psychological thriller, adding his own distinct flavor to it. The film pushes the boundaries of the genre with its nuanced characterization and the exploration of complex themes like guilt, redemption, and existential crisis. Rivette’s approach to the thriller genre is more intellectual than sensational, creating suspense through the gradual revelation of human complexities rather than conventional plot twists. This intellectualization of the genre is one of Rivette’s significant contributions to French cinema.
The film also presents an authentic portrayal of women, a hallmark of Rivette’s cinema. Sylvie is neither a helpless victim nor a hyperbolized femme fatale; she is a complex woman struggling with her traumatic past. She is a protagonist who is both fragile and formidable. This authentic representation of female characters has been a significant aspect of French cinema, with Rivette further enriching it.
Rivette’s manipulation of time and space in “Secret Defense” is another key aspect of the film. His choice of long, continuous shots and the deliberate pacing of the narrative echo the protagonist’s internal turmoil and the existential nature of the story. It’s a conscious deviation from mainstream, fast-paced thrillers, reinforcing Rivette’s unconventional filmmaking approach.
From a stylistic perspective, the film’s stark visual composition and Rivette’s collaboration with cinematographer William Lubtchansky deserves praise. The usage of urban and rural landscapes, coupled with a muted color palette, evokes an eerie and tense atmosphere, complementing the film’s themes. It is a testament to Rivette’s ability to weave together storytelling and aesthetic elements.
“Secret Defense” is a cinematic masterpiece that reflects the profundity and versatility of French cinema. Rivette’s intellectual approach to the genre, combined with his rich characterization and nuanced storytelling, mark significant contributions to the global cinematic landscape. The film stands as an intriguing exploration of human nature, showcasing Rivette’s ability to capture complex realities within the cinematic frame.
Rivette’s “Secret Defense” is indeed a masterstroke in French cinema, an indispensable viewing experience for international cinema fans. The film encourages us to grapple with moral complexities and human frailties, to look beneath the surface, to question and to reflect.
What does Secret Defense get on Blu-ray from Cohen Collection
Secret Defense comes with an audio commentary and a re-release trailer. The A/V Quality is pretty sharp for a fairly recent French cinema release. The new 4K restoration really makes the color timing pop in the 1080p transfer. If that wasn’t enough, you also get a robust DTS-HD 2.0 master audio track that would have been regionally and period appropriate.
If you’re a fan of Rivette by now, give it a shot. We’ve got a few more Rivette Blu-rays to go.