Editor's Note: The
Notebook is the North American home for Locarno Film Festival Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian's blog. Chatrian has been writing thoughtful blog entries in Italian on Locarno's website since he took over as Director in late 2012, and now you can find the English translations here on the
Notebook as they're published. The Locarno Film Festival will be taking place August 5th to 15th.
Bulle Ogier has a brilliance all of her own. It is something quite interior, and thus difficult to define. Her screen presence has something of the apparition about it: perhaps due to those silences, prolonged just a touch longer than necessary, that half-closed mouth, that hesitation to speak out, that gaze which seems to be acutely focused on a point just beyond her interlocutor... Like mother-of-pearl, Bulle Ogier’s beauty is unshowy and multi-faceted.
Bulle Ogier does not belong to that generation of actresses discovered in the streets and launched by the Nouvelle Vague. Although she started out in fashion, her career really began with her work with Marc’O. She made her feature film debut in 1967 with Les idoles, an adaptation of the play of the same name, highlighting its visionary aspects. The film not only represented the avant-garde work of that particular theater group, but also an attitude of that era: a critique of bourgeois society as reflected in showbiz. Bulle Ogier plays crazy Gigi: she radiates beauty, with a combination of irony and talent, alongside Pierre Clementi and Jean-Pierre Kalfon. She was subsequently to co-star with the latter in a film that remains one of the finest, purest of that period, Jacques Rivette’s L’amour fou. Rivette, who had previously wanted her for La réligieuse, found in her both a muse and an alter ego. L’amour fou, about a couple whose relationship moves seamlessly between the stage and their private lives, is a film of piercing lyricism. And one in which the triangulation of looks exchanged between the actors, that of the camera and that of the director are in perfect balance. Following the rigid, relentless mise en scène of La réligieuse, which reinforces the claustrophobic dimension of Suzanne Simonin’s story, Rivette chose to take a step back, and position himself as an interested observer of a performance that his cast perform for him. It was the first step in a strategy that the director continued to employ, with unique results, a strategy that would have been inconceivable without the complicity of Bulle Ogier, who was more than once credited as his co-writer. The next film was a venture taken to extremes. Called Out 1, it was an attempt to reconcile an attraction to the theme of conspiracy (continuing on from Paris nous appartient) with a passion for the actor’s work in theater. In this film, which took its impetus from a mere few pages written by Balzac for his Histoire des treize and widened out to follow two theater troupes and a handful of actors over a period of 13 hours, Bulle Ogier played the role of a completely free spirit. She and, on another level, Jean-Pierre Léaud, had the task of bringing together the various narrative strands and weaving a web that forms the framework of this epic-length film.
In addition to her collaboration with Jacques Rivette (which continued until the 1990s), the 70s were a fantastic period for Bulle Ogier, working on films that remain classics today (and with directors ranging from Buñuel to Fassbinder). Among so many that should be mentioned, there are two that are, in my view, absolutely essential: Alain Tanner’s La salamandre, in which she played Rosamunde, one of those characters who get under your skin and stay with you for ever; and, for Barbet Schroeder, who cast her in two roles as different as they are complementary: the bourgeois woman who chooses to lose herself in the forest in La vallée and the dominatrix in Maîtresse. In both, Bulle Ogier is pure seduction, her body and facial expressions filmed with relentless intensity: and indeed Barbet Schroeder was to remain fascinated for life.
Her collaboration with Marguerite Duras was unique and extended beyond the purely professional. With her, Bulle would perform on stage in the evening and then the next morning be filming an adaptation of the same play (Des journées entières dans les arbres). For her, Bulle once again performed alongside Madeleine Renaud in Savannah Bay, a splendid meditation on acting and actors. With her, Bulle is the body/face onto whom Duras projected her own voice in Le navire night and Agatha, both phantasmal and discursively freewheeling films.
For Bulle Ogier there was never a sharp distinction between performing for theater or film, she moved between them all the time, her experience in one feeding the other. This parallel trajectory should not be misconstrued, however, because there is never any overlap between the two activities. The experience of the distance inherent to a stage performance is something that at times Bulle Ogier deliberately used to give form and substance to her screen performances. Maybe because of this, watching her, I’ve never had that feeling, prompted by generations of actors launched by the Nouvelle Vague, of a brazen offering of the self to the camera. Her way of distancing herself from the traditional performance mode – that art which seeks to make a character credible and realistic – took another direction. I see few other actresses so able to draw on the legacy of silent cinema: in which a single gesture or frame manages to convey the essence of a character. Go and see how she makes an entrance in Edoardo de Gregorio’s film Sérail to see what I mean. Her work with Duras, however, demonstrates another, quite different aspect to her approach. It is something to do with the timing of her performance, as if Bulle manages to bring to the big screen that tension of the silence that precedes action (be it a word or a gesture) that is proper to the stage. The pauses become more weighted with meaning, the sound of the voice assumes as much importance as the meaning of the words… But the most extraordinary thing is that throughout her career, which is still on-going, Bulle Ogier has been able to make her presence felt on screen without ever losing that lightness of touch suggested by her name and which Marguerite Duras described better than anyone else: “Bulle, ce n'est pas la nouvelle vague, c'est le vague absolu.”