La Belle Noiseuse

Rivette has created a soundtrack composed almost entirely of the scratch of pen on paper, and it is one of the most lovely soundtracks I can name. The fact is, it's grating at the same time, much like the titular beautiful troublemaker. It's constant, rough, and lovely. When the characters move, when the artist switches to paintbrush, when something plays on the radio, when they talk, the sound of the scratching is missed. It is dominant in this slow, careful film, even when it isn't present at all. It's the sound of creation, of slow, careful creation, of failure and success, of meticulous and sloppy creation.

There's no mystery here. This film is about the making of a painting. It happens so slowly, you would be forgiven for thinking it was in real time. We see Frenhofer fail so many times; the act of creation is one of repeated failures. We see him get drunk; the act of creation is one of distraction. We see him work all night; the act of creation is one requiring dedication. We see him contend with his model; it is one of struggle, of conflict. We see him control her; it is one of exclusion. We see him work.

On the other end, we have Marianne, whom we see struggle to live up this requirements, not because she wants to please him, but because she refuses to be weak. She understands the importance of this work, and she doesn't sacrifice to help make it happen. She fights. She gives, but she does not weaken herself. She is not a subject. She is fiercely active in this process. It is easy to see why she is the beautiful troublemaker, as she does not let it go quietly or gently. She does not rebel; she stakes a claim.

In their orbit are Elizabeth, Nicolas, and Julienne, each with their own small role in this. Elizabeth is a former muse and current wife, an understanding figure. This is not about sex or romance. She is there to prove that this work is just that: work. An art work, a piece of inspired creation, but still professional, drawn not from some lustful place. (This is not to say that physical concerns don't have their say, but it's not something as crude as that.) Nicolas is, perhaps, Frenhofer's contrast. He is an artist as well, but he seems to misunderstand. He is tinged with jealousy (because he suspects an affair? Maybe. Because he wishes he were as skilled a painter? Maybe). We don't know what his art is like, but I cannot fathom that it is great. Julienne's place is a bit more difficult for me. She seems to almost be a complete outsider, and she provides contrast to the whole process. (There's also an art dealer, whose role is to be a greedy art dealer.)

And in the end, the statement seems to be this: true art is done for oneself (and one's muse). It is not made to be bought and sold. It's not made to be worshiped or examined, but felt. It has an audience, and it has a message for that audience. And once they understand it, its work is done. Maybe. Maybe. Perhaps. I hope. I want to believe this. I want this to be true, because the only thing I've ever truly created has been for an audience of a half dozen or so at most, and I don't know that I will ever show it to anyone else. If I can, one day, finish it and tell them, through it, what I need to tell them, then maybe I will have lived a life worth living. (Not all of them will see it through, and that hurts me every day.) But Frenhofer managed it, in long, slow scratches on canvas and paper, through many dark nights and long days, in a haze of inspiration, frustration, and dedication. He understood, and then he put it away.

December count: 53/100.

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