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La belle noiseuse (1991)

“Jacques Rivette’s “La Belle Noiseuse” (1991) is the best film I have ever seen about the physical creation of art, and about the painful bond between an artist and his muse. Winner of the Palme d’Or prize at Cannes that year, it ran to a full four hours, and so its theatrical life was limited. Rivette edited a 125-minute version titled “Divertimento,” but why bother with it? The greatness of “La Belle Noiseuse” is in the time it spends on the creation of art, and the creation and destruction of passion.”

  • Roger Ebert
    April 12, 2009

La Belle Noiseuse is a 1991 film directed by Jacques Rivette and starring Michel Piccoli, Jane Birkin, and Emmanuelle Béart. Its title means “The Beautiful Troublemaker”.

The film is loosely adapted from the short story The Unknown Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac and also includes elements from The Liar, The Figure in the Carpet, and The Aspern Papers by Henry James.

A reclusive famous painter, Frenhofer (Piccoli), lives quietly with his wife and former model (Birkin) in a rambling château in rural Languedoc-Roussillon. When a young artist visits him with his girlfriend, Marianne (Béart), Frenhofer is inspired to commence work once more on a painting he long ago abandoned “La Belle Noiseuse” using Marianne as his model. The film painstakingly explores Frenhofer’s creative rebirth. It uses lengthy real-time takes of the artist’s hand (provided by Bernard Dufour) working on paper and canvas.

The film won the Grand Prix at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.

The film had a good critical reception, and occasioned much comment on Béart’s frank onscreen nudity and Rivette’s characteristic use of an extreme running time.

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert added the film to his Great Movies collection in April 2009.