Now here’s another film I was not looking forward to, but for completely different reasons than the last. Yet another example of the ‘two films by important classic directors’ mentality I’ve discovered from perusing the list, La Belle Noiseuse is actually longer than Jacques Rivette’s prior list film, Celine and Julie Go Boating, which immediately meant I’d chalk this one up as being likely excruciating to get through. From what I’d read of the film as well, I was also expecting it to be a much more dour and serious film than Celine and Julie, which was about as whimsical as a film could get, so my inability to be sure about the type of film it would be coupled with the rather extreme length meant that this would be almost certainly a tough viewing. It was hard, I’ll admit, but I’m ultimately pleased I watched this. However, that comes with a big caveat that not everybody’s experience will match mine; not even close.
The plot is simple, and why shouldn’t it be: a young artist and his writer girlfriend visit a once famous painter, Frenhofer, and their visit inspires Frenhofer to make a new attempt at a painting he once tried but gave up on, La Belle Noiseuse; this time, with the artist’s girlfriend, Marianne, as the model. The film, like most other ambitious works, is not about the plot; with this film, about a painter attempting to capture the essence of the model and thus make a masterpiece, it is about the process. The film can basically be divided into thirds; the beginning, which sets up the characters and their relationships, the middle, which is the meat of the film, and the end section, or the denouement. Really, the real reason to watch this film in particular is the middle portion, or the centerpiece of the film: we follow, in almost complete real-time, the process through which Frenhofer attempts to realize his masterpiece. The initial sketches and drawings to test and try out rough ideas, the different poses he uses for Marianne, the eventual canvases upon which he paints; we see everything, oftentimes in exacting detail. The film does occasionally cut away to different things, or even cut some of the actual drawing for whatever reason, and most of the drawing/painting takes place over multiple days, but the bulk of the film is the creation process itself. If this sounds unappealing to you, I don’t blame you; it did for me too, but once I was able to ready myself for what the film would ultimately be, I found myself able to get through it well enough, even if it took a few installments. A number of reviews I’ve found about this one label it as quite possibly the greatest film about the creative process ever made. That’s a label that would be hard to live up to, but La Belle Noiseuse is so timeless with its methods and so precise in its execution of them that any other label would be underselling the film.
It’s wonderfully made, has excellent acting from the major players, and features a naked Emmanuelle Beart for a large chunk of the screentime, so what’s not to like? Well, the length is a massive obstacle, but put that aside, and you don’t have very much to hate about this one. It’s slow, I’ll give the detractors that, but at the same time, those who complain that the film is too slow are not even trying to understand what the film is really accomplishing. This is not a film that is supposed to be quick, in any sense, and if that added to the four hour running time are too much for you to handle… well, then they’re too much for you to handle. I’ve readily admitted that I was not all that willing to sit through a four-hour film about a guy making a painting, but as I’ve also said, once I was able to get myself in the right mindset about the film, I actually found myself enjoying it at times. I probably won’t need to ever see it again, but for me, once is all it took, and all that was required of me.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10