La Belle Noiseuse (1991)

La Belle Noiseuse (1991), directed by Jacques Rivette.

"The Beautiful Troublemaker".

A 4-hour artist-and-model film. That gives one pause; is it worth the time investment? The excellent Blu-ray is on two discs, making it easy to split across two nights.

As a sweetener Emmanuelle BĂ©art (Manon of the Spring (1986), A Heart in Winter (1992)) is fully nude during a big part of the picture. She is neither anorexic nor voluptuous, but in that happy medium of trim feminine physique which is always pleasing to the eye.

I don't know much about painting or anything about how artists work. I thought the painter would have an image in mind, pose his model and just paint until done.

Not at all, in this case. The painter does rough work of many studies in ink, chalk and watercolor, putting the model through a variety of difficult poses. He is seeking an image, in torment for inspiration, for a glimpse of a painting worth doing.

The model is not a passive object of his eye. She participates, fighting back, achieving the painting in her flesh before it appears on canvas. She provokes the artist, becoming his "beautiful troublemaker".

You might expect romantic involvement between the two, but it is not an issue in this case. There is something between them (no one paints naked women for no reason and she isn't doing it for money) but he is faithful to his wife, his former model. They have their own struggles: he could not finish the painting with her and then too much time passed, meaning she became too old. She understands, but understanding isn't everything.

How does the model get into this? Her boyfriend -- a younger artist -- volunteers her. She is angry at first but doesn't say no. After a while she becomes committed and wants to see the project through. When the painting is done she and the artist are like boxers after the big bout that ended in a draw: respectful but done with it.

We never get to see the finished painting. The wife advises the model: "Don't look at it. He won't spare you." She does and doesn't like it.

You won't believe what he does with his masterpiece:


He bricks it up inside a wall where it won't be found for centuries. He then effortlessly strokes out a minor work to satisfy his dealer. Only the inner circle know the truth.

It is a film of vast delicacy and insight. Near the end of his life Akira Kurosawa said:


I actually would have liked to make the movie. Its original is Balzac's novel. A first-rate artist can see what we cannot see. I, for example, paint quickly and carelessly, but an artist doesn't do it. He can hardly satisfy himself because he sees far more various things. That difficult theme was very nicely filmized.

Available on Blu-ray, 2 discs from Cohen Media. Gorgeous image. Grainless; I don't know if the film has been processed or if they used some fine-grained stock. It doesn't look processed at all. The old 1.37:1 aspect ratio is correct.

I bailed on the commentary track. Too much film school theory.