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Swing, Sway, and Sing
Jacques Rivette, the quietest and least-known of the original French New Wave cineastes, creates in this 1995 film a charming advance on his substantial earlier work. Now in his early 70s, Rivette is best-known for the sometimes playful, sometimes fearful paranoia of films ranging from Paris Belongs to Us (1959) and The Nun (1966) through to the madly whimsical Celine and Julie Go Boating (1972). Rivette's work centers again and again on young and beautiful women caught up in mystery; in Up/Down/Fragile, 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 rather resembles a bowling alley, but which 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, with Nathalie Richard's thief in particular taking melodic wing as she bops around the dance floor. Nouvelle vague goddess Anna Karina is also on hand and most of the cast take turns croaking out a tune or passing off stylized walking and posing as choreography by Bob Fosse. Somehow it all works, sustained as it is by the director's evident love for both his characters and the old movies the film draws on. While the movie strongly resembles, in look and feel, the "comedies and proverbs" of Rivette's New Wave compatriot Eric Rohmer, crossed with the musicales of the late Jacques Demy, it sustains a long-distance lyricism that is peculiarly Rivette's own.

-- Gregg Rickman

Up/Down/Fragile screens Monday through Saturday, May 31-June 5, at 7:15 p.m. at the Fine Arts Cinema, 2451 Shattuck (at Haste), Berkeley. Admission is $7; call (510) 848-1143.

 
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