This film was a touchstone in my youth, specially because of the way it confronts any given idea of cinematographic resourcefulness to bring to the core of the film the idea of cinematographic language as a pause. Even if the film is read as an overdose, the final outcome if filled with beauty and deep communication. A film of a quiet, struggling beauty.
Having very recently seen Rivette's "L'amour fou", his epic 4 hour film about the relationship between life and art (theater), his "La belle noiseuse" was a perfect companion piece. Again, it is a 4 hour film about the relationship between life and art (this time painting), and Rivette's attention to every detail in the process of making an empty canvas come alive, is breathtaking. Loved every minute of it!
An intense trip towards exploring creativity and the interplay between undertaking a creative endeavor and the human aspect of it all. If you are an artist, programmer, designer or any person that strives to create things, you will find this film profound and it might affect the way you see and do things.
Yes it is long, pretentious, artsy, and French. And yes you do watch a guy draw and paint for extended periods of time. But it's so hypnotic, for four hours I sat glued to my seat while the film held my rapt attention. I've never seen anything quite like it, it's just so... magical.
The drawing and painting sequences are nice. And, most of all, the way Emmanuelle Béart's body is filmed is gorgeous. The long sequences in which we don't see her body, just the painter's look or his pen and ink scratching gesture and sound are wonderful. In the absence of the human figure, our imagination completes the missing image. Most* of the rest, the concepts about art, the tormented artist, is quite absurd.
Art and painting in specific is faced by Rivette with the same metaphysical sense one can discern in Oscar Wilde: art is capable of truly representing life to the point of revealing completely the objects it represents. Therefore the painting of a model can reveal enough about her to destroy her, if the painting itself isn't destroyed first (that's basically why Dorian Gray destroys his picture in Wilde's classic).