OLIVIAis a rare film in every sense—beautiful, precious, secret. — Libération
The new restoration of OLIVIA (1951)—directed by pioneer French feminist Jacqueline Audry—is now playing at the Royal.
Set in an all-girls school in the 1800s, Miss Julie (Edwige Feuillère) and Miss Cara (SimoneSimon) compete for the attention and affection of their charges. While nothing explicit happens on screen, the passions implied by new girl Olivia (Marie-Claire Olivia) are clear.
I had better sex with other guys while thinking of him.
The quote above—a characteristic aside from one of the female leads in Louis Garrel’s AFAITHFUL MAN, the actor’s second turn in the director’s chair—refers to Abel (Garrel), a man of little agency in a romantic game of chance, seemingly happy to shuttle between Marianne (Laetitia Casta) and Ève (Lily-Rose Depp).
Abel and Marianne were lovers, until she announces—in the film’s first few minutes—that she is pregnant, and the father is their close friend Paul. Fast forward a decade and Paul has just died. Abel reconnects with Marianne at his funeral—a reunion witnessed by both Joseph (Marianne and Paul’s son, played by Joseph Engel), and Paul’s younger sister Ève, who has always had an unrequited crush on Abel.
We are deep in Rohmer and Truffaut territory—narrators voicing internal thoughts, chamber music on the soundtrack, a sense of timeless suspension in an everyday, non-touristic Paris—and Garrel (son of Philippe) and co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière (a Buñuel veteran) are indeed faithful to their antecedents, giving audiences a contemporary nouvelle vague experience and keeping the proceedings 100% français. (Even the Hollywood noir that Marianne and Abel go out to see is dubbed in French, which would not be the case in an actual Left Bank revival house.*)
A FAITHFUL MAN is a piece of cinematic driftwood, smooth and lovely, kept afloat by its players’ charms. Selfishness and betrayal are expressed and accepted with hushed discretion. Complete happiness is not exactly on the menu, but fidelity to independence, choice, and the freedom to make mistakes is its own reward.
Last Year at Marienbad (1961), directed by Alain Resnais, from top: Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi; grounds at Marienbad; Seyrig and Albertazzi; SachaPitoëff and Seyrig; Albertazzi and Seyrig; Seyrig; Albertazzi (left) and Pitoëff; Seyrig. Images courtesy Rialto Pictures.
“The beauty of dance… is that it gets passed from one body, one soul, to another. There’s something so beautiful, so precious about that. It comes out of the body, it goes into the air, and then it disappears.” — Stephen Petronio
In the afterglow of the Merce Cunningham—Night of 100 Solos events, the immersive new documentary IF THE DANCER DANCES tells a different Cunningham story: the 2015 restaging of the choreographer’s RainForest by the Stephen Petronio Company.
The sexual quality and hint of narrative in this 1968 dance—with music by David Tudor, costumes by Jasper Johns, and décor by Andy Warhol (the silver, helium-filled pillows)—create an atmosphere distinct from almost every other Cunningham work. The challenge for the stagers—and Cunningham company veterans—Andrea Weber, Meg Harper, and Rashaun Mitchell is replacing the continuous-movement ethos of the Petronio dancers with Cunningham’s non-momentum aesthetic. As the film demonstrates, how to do this is perhaps a subject of dispute:
“The focus needs to be exactly on what you’re doing, and not on an image of anything.” — MegHarper
“RainForest… transcended pure movement… [The dancers] need to hear images that might help them.” — Gus Solomons, Jr., Cunningham company veteran
IF THE DANCER DANCES—directed by Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler—mixes extensive performance and interview footage of Petronio’s dancers and their teachers with scenes of Cunningham rehearsals from the 1960s. This essential document of modern dance making and Cunningham’s philosophy and practice is playing around town through May 9.