In the charming Up/Down/Fragile, made in 1994 but premiering here only now, Jacques Rivette, the quietest and least-known of the original French New Wave cineastes, advances smartly on his substantial earlier work. Now in his early 70s, Rivette is best-known for the sometimes playful, sometimes fearful paranoia in works ranging from Paris Belongs to Us (1959) and The Nun (1966) through to the madly whimsical Celine and Julie Go Boating (1972). Little of Rivette's work since has been seen here; the ongoing Pacific Film Archive tribute provides a splendid opportunity for viewers to catch up with this most elusive of auteurs. Rivette centers again and again on young and beautiful women caught up in mystery; here, the three women whose lives interact are a petty thief on the run, an unhappy orphan unsure of her identity, and a fragile woman just out of a coma, feeling her way back into life. Their overlapping crises provide a splendid pretext for a leisurely (169-minute) work of gentle character observation, shot mostly outdoors on the back streets of Paris and in a nightclub that gives the cast ample room to swing and sway. And sing -- an hour into its story, amazingly, Up/Down/Fragile transforms itself into a musical. Nathalie Richard's thief in particular takes melodic wing as she bops around the dance floor. Nouvelle vague goddess Anna Karina is also on hand, singing, with most of the cast also taking turns croaking out a tune or passing off their stylized walking and posing as choreography. Somehow it all works, sustained by the director's evident love for both his characters and the old movies the film draws on. While Up/Down/Fragile might be a cross between the "comedies and proverbs" of Rivette's New Wave compatriot Eric Rohmer and the stylized musicales of the late Jacques Demy, it sustains a long-distance lyricism that is peculiarly Rivette's own.
Up/Down/Fragile screens Friday and Saturday, Nov. 7 & 8, at 7 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Tickets are $5.50; call (510) 642-1124.
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