It’s interesting to see how some of the most difficult and challenging examples of art cinema have become increasingly popular over the past decade. Back in the 60s and 70s, Robert Bresson was virtually a laughing-stock figure to mainstream critics, and someone whose films characteristically played to almost empty houses. Yet by the time that he died, a retrospective of his work that circled the globe was so successful in drawing crowds that in many venues—including Chicago’s Film Center—it had a return engagement. Much the same thing has happened with Andrei Tarkovsky—another uncompromising spiritual filmmaker, and one whose films are even tougher to paraphrase or even explain in any ordinary terms.
I’m just back from a trip to the east coast where I was gratified to find, when I turned up to introduce a screening of Jacques Rivette’s 252-minute L’amour fou (1968) in Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, that the film was playing to a nearly packed house. (Incidentally, this galvanizing love story about the doomed relationship between a theater director and his wife, played by Jean-Pierre Kalfon and Bulle Ogier, has never looked better to me, though I’ve been a big fan since the early 70s.) Virtually everyone stayed to the end, and there was a lively and enthusiastic discussion afterwards. Better yet, Rivette’s other major experimental work, his over 12-hour Out 1 (1971), was screened for the press in Astoria last week, and I’m told that over a couple of dozen members of the press turned up for the event. The public screening scheduled for this weekend was sold out several days ago, and A.O. Scott reports in today’s New York Times that a return engagement is already being planned for early March. (I’m told that the only thing preventing a Chicago screening is the hefty cost in this case of having to use laser subtitles—which appear below the screen rather than within the film frame, and have to be carefully coordinated to remain in sync.)