In 1995, an eclectic gem of French cinema emerged from the auteur Jacques Rivette, with his film “Up, Down, Fragile” (“Haut bas fragile”). A delightful mix of mystery, comedy, and musical, the film evokes the whimsical spirit of the French New Wave while engaging the contemporary cinema scene of the mid-90s. This unique blend of genres and style is reflective of Rivette’s idiosyncratic filmmaking, which will be the focus of this review.
What is Up, Down, Fragile?
Sitting at the crossroads of genre experimentation and narrative introspection, “Up, Down, Fragile” spins an episodic narrative. Rivette lets three young women – Louise (Marianne Denicourt), Ninon (Nathalie Richard), and Ida (Laurence Côte) – in the city of Paris, intersect and part ways, marking the structure and tempo of the film. Its unconventional storytelling reimagines the cityscape as a stage where the women perform, evoking the fluidity of musical theatre and the unpredictability of urban life.
“Haut bas fragile” is a meditative dance of genres that creates a unique cinematic experience, a testament to Rivette’s continuous experimentation and contribution to French cinema. While being an homage to classic musicals, it remarkably retains the filmmaker’s signature touch – a freeform narrative style that embraces improvisation and rejects the dictates of mainstream cinema. It playfully subverts viewer expectations by disrupting the storyline with musical numbers, making the film feel like an anti-musical at times.
Dramatic musicals in the style of Demy…kinda.
Rivette’s artistic genius shines through his use of the musical format, which he does not merely use as an aesthetic tool but also to deepen the exploration of his characters. The musical interludes act as spontaneous reflections of the women’s internal state, serving as an emotional subtext that accompanies their search for identity. This decision to blend the musical genre into a dramatic narrative is unique and daring and is a significant aspect of Rivette’s contribution to French cinema.
“Up, Down, Fragile” is also notable for its strong female protagonists. French cinema has often been celebrated for its nuanced representation of women, and Rivette continues this tradition. He crafts complex, independent characters with their unique struggles and desires, avoiding clichéd portrayals. This nuanced representation is indicative of a progressive shift in French cinema, which Rivette masterfully contributes to and pushes further.
Commentary on Commentary
The film is not without its layers of social commentary. While the characters’ personal quests are central to the plot, they also reflect on broader societal themes. The dichotomy of Paris as a romanticized city and a harsh reality of urban life is explored through the characters’ different experiences of the city. Rivette paints an authentic portrayal of urban life that avoids glamorization, offering a counterpoint to the musical escapism woven into the film.
Another important contribution of “Up, Down, Fragile” to French cinema lies in its emphasis on the performative nature of identity. Rivette explores the idea that identity is fluid and that it can be performed and re-performed. This is evident in the film’s musical sequences, where the characters slip into different roles. The film suggests that identity is not fixed but is continually created and recreated in relation to one’s environment, which adds depth to its narrative.
In terms of its visual language, “Up, Down, Fragile” creates a mesmerizing atmosphere. Rivette, along with cinematographer William Lubtchansky, uses long, tracking shots and minimal edits that provide an uninterrupted, immersive view of Paris. This approach, coupled with an intriguing color palette, creates a sense of realism that beautifully contrasts the dreamlike musical sequences.
In its examination of female characters, urban realities, and identity formation, “Up, Down, Fragile” stands out in the history of French cinema. It showcases Rivette’s commitment to narrative freedom, genre subversion, and nuanced character portrayal. The film’s unconventional use of musical sequences to complement dramatic storytelling adds a distinct flavor that contributes to the broader cinematic landscape.
While “Up, Down, Fragile” may not be as widely recognized as some of Rivette’s other works, its significance should not be underestimated. It is a prime example of Rivette’s ability to defy genre conventions and tell compelling, thought-provoking stories that resonate on multiple levels. The film is a testament to the versatility and dynamism of French cinema, serving as an excellent entry point for those interested in exploring the richness of this cinematic tradition.
Wrapping up some loose thoughts
“Up, Down, Fragile” is a film that dances between genres and narratives, leaving an indelible mark on French cinema. It weaves a unique blend of musicality and drama, creating a memorable cinematic experience that continues to resonate decades after its release. Rivette’s film is a testament to the transformative power of cinema and its ability to challenge, entertain, and provoke thought. In a cinematic landscape increasingly dominated by formulaic storytelling, “Up, Down, Fragile” is a refreshing reminder of the power of bold, innovative filmmaking.
Rivette’s “Up, Down, Fragile” encapsulates the vitality and versatility of French cinema, making it an essential viewing for international cinema fans seeking to delve into the rich tradition of French filmmaking. As Rivette’s characters navigate the streets of Paris and their lives, we are invited to partake in their journeys, discovering along the way the beauty and fragility of life and the endless possibilities of cinema.
Cohen brings Up, Down, Fragile to Blu-ray
Up, Down, Fragile is the latest Jacques Rivette movie to get a Blu-ray release from Cohen. The special features range from an audio commentary to re-release trailer. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is kinda the package that all of these releases are getting.
The A/V Quality is pretty flat for being a musical from the mid 1990s. For having a new 4K restoration, it makes me wonder what condition the original print was in before the upgrade. Not the best, not the worst…but it’s worth experiencing to understand Rivette.