When Clément Roquemaure (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) attends an immersive theatre piece in a Parisian apartment he quickly realizes that the theatre troupe has plagiarized one of his lesser known works. Instead of pursuing legal action against the troupe, he invites them to his chateau. It is there that Charlotte (Geraldine Chaplin) and Emily (Jane Birkin) meet Clément’s best friend the magician Paul (André Dussollier). Clément invites Charlotte and Emily to live at his chateau with himself and Paul for a week as they rehearse a new play to be staged in the house on Saturday night.
L’Amour par terre (1984) sees Jacques Rivette return to those passions that so often define his public persona. Not only does L’Amour par terre abound with references to astrology and the casual use of supernatural abilities, but it centers around the exploration of that space where an actor’s reality and performance intersect. It doesn’t take Charlotte and Emily long to realize that the play they are rehearsing is a dramatized episode from the lives of Paul and Clément as the two men conspire too position Emily and Charlotte to “live” their roles outside of their performances. For the men the work is meant to be some perverse form of catharsis and closure, but for Charlotte and Emily it all becomes a reality.
Of course the machinations of Paul and Clément are eventually turned against them by Emily and Charlotte on the night of the performance. Instead of closing the door on the past and claiming control of fate, Paul and Clément are forced to relive their failures and traumas before the critical gaze of the public. In terms of narrative trajectory Rivette draws on those features that made Céline et Julie vont en bateau (1974) and Duelle (1976) such critical successes. The major difference here is that, despite the presence of a supernatural power, L’Amour par terre is a far less metaphorical presentation of these themes of performance, perception and reality. Aesthetically, this links L’Amour par terre more closely with Out 1: Noli Me Tangere (1971) and Le Pont du Nord (1981).
The supernatural element of L’Amour par terre comes from Paul who, when caught in feelings of desire, broadcasts visions of the future into the minds of his would be lovers. These reflections becomes visual manifestations of the conceptual subtext of the film. As Charlotte and Emily lose themselves they see these visions the way that the theater audience and the film audience see them. This closes the circuit between performer and spectator in a kind of loop; a post-modernist strategy that Rivette perfected in Céline et Julie vont en bateau. These projected images are rendered with stark lighting that evokes a theatricality that is intentionally absent elsewhere in L’Amour par terre.
Instead of the “movie within a movie” trope Rivette offers the viewers something more complex. Paul’s broadcasts could better be described as “movies within the mind within the play within the movie”. Not only does this suggest Rivette’s core belief that the cinema is the imagination externalized and made accessible, but it also suggests that collective imagining is the genesis of cinema. Rivette’s methodology as a filmmaker post-La Religieuse (1966) is one of extreme collaboration where entire movies are born out of extensive improvisations with actors that are then parceled off and organized into a script that in turn is often written by more than two persons. Rivette, like John Cassavetes, reconfigured the entire process of picture making around this concept of community.
So it should be no surprise that the antagonists of L’Amour par terre are tyrannical directors that represent traditional auteurist value systems. These systems, through their discourse in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties preserved the oppressive politics of a patriarchal society predicated on the assumption that one masculine figure shall lead. Rivette’s films, which often feature male antagonists and female protagonists, attempt to reclaim this despot laden film culture for democracy and equality. While not always successful, Rivette’s attempts at this form of radicalism are always interesting and entirely sincere.